What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is a mental illness that brings severe high and low moods and changes in sleep, energy, thinking, and behaviour.
People who have bipolar disorder can have periods in which they feel overly happy and energized and other periods of feeling very sad, hopeless, and sluggish. In between those periods, they usually feel normal. You can think of the highs and the lows as two “poles” of mood, which is why it’s called “bipolar” disorder.
What Are the Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?
In bipolar disorder, the dramatic episodes of high and low moods do not follow a set pattern. Someone may feel the same mood state (depressed or manic) several times before switching to the opposite mood. These episodes can happen over a period of weeks, months, and sometimes even years.
How severe it gets differs from person to person and can also change over time, becoming more or less severe.
Symptoms of mania (“the highs”):
Excessive happiness, hopefulness, and excitement
Sudden changes from being joyful to being irritable, angry, and hostile
Rapid speech and poor concentration
Increased energy and less need for sleep
Unusually high sex drive
Making grand and unrealistic plans
Showing poor judgment
Drug and alcohol abuse
Becoming more impulsive
During depressive periods (“the lows”), a person with bipolar disorder may have:
Loss of energy
Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
Not enjoying things they once liked
Trouble making decisions
Needing more sleep
Appetite changes that make them lose or gain weight
Thoughts of death or suicide
Who Gets Bipolar Disorder?
When someone develops bipolar disorder, it usually starts when they’re in late adolescence or young adulthood. Rarely, it can happen earlier in childhood. Bipolar disorder can run in families.
Men and women are equally likely to get it. Women are somewhat more likely than men to go through “rapid cycling,” which is having four or more distinct mood episodes within a year. Women also tend to spend more time depressed than men with bipolar disorder.
What Causes Bipolar Disorder?
There is no single cause. Genes, brain changes, and stress can all play a role.
How Is Bipolar Disorder Diagnosed?
If you or someone you know has symptoms of bipolar disorder, talk to your family doctor or a psychiatrist. They will ask questions about mental illnesses that you, or the person you’re concerned about, have had, and any mental illnesses that run in the family. The person will also get a complete psychiatric evaluation to tell if they have likely bipolar disorder or another mental health condition.”
Diagnosing bipolar disorder is all about the person’s symptoms and determining whether they may be the result of another cause (such as low thyroid, or mood symptoms caused by drug or alcohol abuse). How severe are they? How long have they lasted? How often do they happen?
The most telling symptoms are those that involve highs or lows in mood, along with changes in sleep, energy, thinking, and behavior.
Talking to close friends and family of the person can often help the doctor distinguish bipolar disorder from major depressive (unipolar) disorder or other psychiatric disorders that can involve changes in mood, thinking, and behavior.
What Are the Treatments for Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder can be treated. It’s a long-term condition that needs ongoing care.
Medication is the main treatment.
Bipolar Disorder and Suicide
Some people who have bipolar disorder may become suicidal.
Learn the warning signs and seek immediate medical help for them:
Depression (changes in eating, sleeping, activities)
Talking about suicide, hopelessness, or helplessness
Taking more risks
Having more accidents
Abusing alcohol or other drugs
Focusing on morbid and negative themes
Talking about death and dying
Crying more, or becoming less emotionally expressive
Giving away possessions