Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is an illness involving one or more episodes of serious mania and depression. The illness causes a person's mood to swing from excessively "high" and/or irritable to sad and hopeless, with periods of a normal mood in between. More than 2 million Americans suffer from bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder typically begins in adolescence or early adulthood and continues throughout life. It is often not recognized as an illness and people who have it may suffer needlessly for years.
Bipolar disorder can be extremely distressing and disruptive for those who have this disease, their spouses, family members, friends and employers. Although there is no known cure, bipolar disorder is treatable, and recovery is possible. Individuals with bipolar disorder have successful relationships and meaningful jobs. The combination of medications and psychotherapy helps the vast majority of people return to productive, fulfilling lives.
What causes bipolar disorder?
Although a specific genetic link to bipolar disorder has not been found, studies show that 80 to 90 percent of those who suffer from bipolar disorder have relatives with some form of depression.
It is also possible that people may inherit a tendency to develop the illness, which can then be triggered by environmental factors such as distressing life events.
The presence of bipolar disorder indicates a biochemical imbalance that alters a person's moods. This imbalance is thought to be caused by irregular hormone production or to a problem with certain chemicals in the brain, called neurotransmitters, that act as messengers to our nerve cells.
What are the symptoms of bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder is often difficult to recognize and diagnose. It causes a person to have a high level of energy, unrealistically expansive thoughts or ideas, and impulsive or reckless behavior. These symptoms may feel good to a person, which may lead to denial that there is a problem. Another reason bipolar disorder is difficult to diagnose is that its symptoms may appear to be part of another illness or attributed to other problems such as substance abuse, poor school performance, or trouble in the workplace.
Symptoms of mania
The symptoms of mania, which can last up to three months if untreated, include:
- Excessive energy, activity, restlessness, racing thoughts and rapid talking
- Denial that anything is wrong
- Extreme "high" or euphoric feelings -- a person may feel "on top of the world" and nothing, including bad news or tragic events, can change this "happiness."
- Easily irritated or distracted.
- Decreased need for sleep - an individual may last for days with little or no sleep without feeling tired.
- Unrealistic beliefs in one's ability and powers -- a person may experience feelings of exaggerated confidence or unwarranted optimism. This can lead to over ambitious work plans and the belief that nothing can stop him or her from accomplishing any task.
- Uncharacteristically poor judgment - a person may make poor decisions which may lead to unrealistic involvement in activities, meetings and deadlines, reckless driving, spending sprees and foolish business ventures.
- Sustained period of behavior that is different from usual -- a person may dress and/or act differently than he or she usually does, become a collector of various items, become indifferent to personal grooming, become obsessed with writing, or experience delusions.
- Unusual sexual drive
- Abuse of drugs, particularly cocaine, alcohol or sleeping medications
- Provocative, intrusive, or aggressive behavior -- a person may become enraged or paranoid if his or her grand ideas are stopped or excessive social plans are refused.
Symptoms of Depression
Some people experience periods of normal mood and behavior following a manic phase, however, the depressive phase will eventually appear. Symptoms of depression include:
- Persistent sad, anxious, or empty mood
- Sleeping too much or too little, middle-of-the-night or early morning waking
- Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased appetite and weight gain
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities, including sex
- Irritability or restlessness
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions.
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Persistent physical symptoms that don't respond to treatment (such as chronic pain or digestive disorders)
- Thoughts of death or suicide, including suicide attempts
- Feeling guilty, hopeless or worthless
Most people with bipolar disorder can be treated with medication. It is also suggested that those with bipolar disorder receive guidance, education and support from a mental health professional to help deal with personal relationships, maintain a healthy self-image and ensure compliance with his or her treatment.
Support and self-help groups are an invaluable resource for learning coping skills, feeling acceptance, and avoiding social isolation. Friends and family should join a support group to better understand the illness so that they can continue to offer encouragement and support to their loved ones.
Treatment is critical for recovery. A combination of medication, professional help and support from family, friends and peers can help individuals with bipolar disorder stabilize their emotions and behavior.
(From the National Mental Health Association)
Bipolar Disorder Resources
- Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA): Mission is to educate patients, families, professionals and the public concerning the nature of depression and bipolar illness as medical diseases; to foster self-help for patients and families; to eliminate discrimination and stigma; to improve the availability and quality of help and support; and to advocate for research toward the elimination of these illnesses.
General Mental Health Resources
The menu on the right will link you to information on specific mental health topics. -->
Below are additional links to excellent websites for mental health information:
- Go Ask Alice: Website operated by Columbia University to answer the questions of college students on issues related to physical health, mental health, and sexuality.
- Half Of Us: This engaging youth-oriented site uses video stories of students and high-profile artists to increase awareness about mental health issues and the importance of getting help.
- Healthyminds.org: This website of the American Psychiatric Association offers a broad array of information on topics related to mental health.
- Helpguide: Website operated by a non-profit organization offers information and resources on a broad range of mental health topics.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): An advocacy group for people living with mental illness and their loved ones. Good source of information and resources on mental health topics.
- ReachOut.com: An information and support service using evidence based principles and technology to help teens and young adults facing tough times and struggling with mental health issues.
- ULifeLine.org: An online resource for college students with information about protecting your emotional health and what to do if you or friends are struggling with mental health issues.
- Student Health 101