Reviewed by Aaron Horn, LMFT
What Is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a severe mental health disorder that causes a person to experience unusual and extreme shifts in thinking, behavior, mood, and energy.
People that have bipolar disorder may experience certain levels of mania and depression. They are also likely to have frequent shifts in their overall mood.
This condition occurs differently in different people. For some people, they may mostly experience states of depression. For some others, they may experience manic phases majorly. And there is also the possibility that some people may experience symptoms of depression and mania simultaneously.
People who have bipolar disorder are likely to experience difficulty coping with their daily life and maintaining stable interpersonal relationships. There is no cure for this condition. However, it can be managed to help the person live their daily life better.
Is Manic Depression The Same As Bipolar Disorder?
A lot of people tend to use the terms “manic depression” and “bipolar disorder” to paint mental images of two different conditions. But that assertion is wrong. Bipolar disorder and manic depression refer to the same condition and can be used interchangeably, though bipolar is a more recent and clinically used term.
Facts On Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder is not a rare mental health disorder. In fact, as much as 2.8% of the adult population in the United States is diagnosed with bipolar disorder. This puts the figure at around 5 million people in the United States.
The average age at which most people that have bipolar disorder start to exhibit symptoms is around 25 years of age.
Depression within bipolar disorder usually lasts for a minimum of two weeks. A manic episode could last anywhere between several days and several weeks. Some people who have bipolar disorder may experience several mood change episodes within a year, while others may just experience them more rarely. It all varies from one person to another.
Symptoms Of Bipolar Disorder
The symptoms of bipolar disorder can be classified into two main categories: depression and mania (or hypomania).
During episodes of depression, people who have bipolar disorder may experience the following:
- Loss of energy
- Irritability or increased restlessness
- Changes in behavioral patterns
- Loss of or reduced interest in activities previously enjoyed
- Disruption in normal sleeping or eating patterns
- Talk very slowly
- Difficulty with decision making
- Strong feelings of hopelessness
- Strong feelings of sadness and emptiness
- Suicide ideation or attempt
Mania constitutes more intense symptoms that are usually manifested in an outward manner. While experiencing mania episodes, people who have bipolar disorder are likely to feel an overwhelming sensation, an emotional high. This causes them to experience the following:
- Having thoughts race through their minds
- Feel little or no urge to get sleep or rest
- Long periods of overexcitement, intense feeling of joy and euphoria
- Increased levels of restlessness
- Speaking too fast
- Overstating their capabilities
- Performing impulsive high-risk activities without precautions like going on spending sprees, having unprotected sex, gambling, and making unreasonable investments
Some people who have bipolar disorder can experience a third category of symptoms, hypomania. Symptoms in this category are similar to those associated with mania, just not as severe. While mania may lead to hospitalization in worst-case scenarios, hypomania is less likely to result in that. Generally, hypomania may not cause any significant disruption in carrying out daily activities or interpersonal relationships. However, people with bipolar disorder who experience hypomania may still observe mood changes. Hypomania is usually affiliated with bipolar II disorder.
Some people who have bipolar disorder may experience a mixture of both mania and depression. In this mixed state, they may experience symptoms that include the following:
- Drastic changes in appetite
- Suicidal ideation
If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255, and is available 24/7.
They will also feel bursts of energy while experiencing the symptoms above.
Without treatment, bipolar disorder symptoms may worsen and impair a person’s daily life and interpersonal relationships. You need to reach out to a primary care provider for help if you experience any bipolar disorder symptoms.
Symptoms Of Bipolar Disorder In Women
An almost equal ratio of men and women receive a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. However, the major symptoms both genders experience may be slightly different. Usually, a woman who has bipolar disorder may:
- Get diagnosed later on in her life, around her 20s or later in her 30s
- Experience mania episodes that are milder
- Experience more episodes of depression than episodes of mania
- Experience as many as four or more manic and depressive episodes within a year. This is referred to as rapid cycling.
- Experience a lifetime risk of having alcohol use disorder that is higher
- Relapse more frequently because of hormonal changes
Symptoms Of Bipolar Disorder In Men
Men may also experience bipolar disorder symptoms differently from women. Men who have bipolar disorder may:
- Get a diagnosis earlier in life
- Experience mania episodes that are more severe
- Get involved in substance abuse
- Act out when experiencing mania episodes
Men who have bipolar disorder have a reduced likelihood of seeking medical care by themselves.
Types Of Bipolar Disorder
There are 3 major types of bipolar disorder: Bipolar I, Bipolar II, and Cyclothymia.
Bipolar I is characterized by the appearance of mania or mixed episodes that last for a minimum of up to one week. The person may experience hypomanic episodes or intense depressive episodes before the mania episode or after it. These cycles may last up to two weeks. This type equally affects both men and women.
This type of bipolar disorder is characterized by the experience of major depressive episodes lasting up to a minimum of two weeks, and mixed episodes of hypomania that last around four days. This type of bipolar disorder is more prevalent in women.
People with this type of bipolar disorder experience hypomania episodes alongside depression episodes. The symptoms in this instance tend to be shorter than and not as severe as those associated with bipolar I or II disorder.
Causes Of Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder is a common mental health disorder. However, there are still many unknown factors that would explain what causes the condition in some people and not in others.
Possible factors that could contribute to a person developing bipolar disorder include:
If a member of your immediate family has bipolar disorder, the chances that you may develop the bipolar disorder are higher. However, it is noteworthy to understand that most people whose family history shows someone who has had bipolar disorder do not eventually develop it.
If there are abnormalities in the brain structure or brain functions, there is an increased likelihood of developing the condition.
Asides from genetics and the brain, which are internal factors, external factors could contribute to an increased likelihood of a person developing bipolar disorder. These external factors may include:
- Extreme levels of stress
- Past traumatic experiences
- Physical ailments
While each of these factors – genetics, brain function, and environmental factors, may influence the development of the bipolar disorder in a person, it is also more likely that a combination of these factors may contribute to a person developing a mental health condition in general.
Diagnosis Of Bipolar Disorder
A majority of bipolar disorder cases start to develop before a person attains the age of 25. While some people start experiencing their symptoms in early childhood, others may not experience any symptoms until later in life. Because of the range of possible symptoms of bipolar disorder, it may be difficult to diagnose a person immediately because the symptoms manifest subtly and get worse over time. It is also more difficult to diagnose bipolar disorder in young children and adolescents due to the nature of their growth stage. They typically have higher energy levels and changes in their moods and behaviors.
You should provide your caregiver with all the necessary information they need to make an accurate diagnosis. They may want to find out about your use of alcohol and other substances and about your symptoms' intensity. They may also need to conduct other tests to ascertain the actual problem and rule out other possible medical conditions.
Bipolar disorder, if left untreated, could worsen, and manic and depressive episodes may become more extreme. On the other hand, there is every possibility that if you get treatment, you can live a productive and healthy life.
Bipolar disorder has no cure but it can be successfully managed over one’s lifetime. There are a number of treatment options open to you:
Several medications may be prescribed by physicians to help in treating bipolar disorder. Some of these medications include mood stabilizers, antidepressants, antipsychotics, and benzodiazepines.
The information found in the article is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek your physician's advice or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have about medication.
Psychotherapy treatments used in treating bipolar disorder include cognitive behavioral therapy, psycho-education, and IPSRT (Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy).
Other available treatment options include;
- Sleep medications
- Electroconvulsive therapy
If you think you have bipolar disorder, can take this test to find out if you should seek further advice.