What is Bipolar Disorder?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health,
bipolar disorder (also known as "manic-depressive"
illness) is a "brain disorder that causes unusual
shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability
to carry out day-to-day tasks." It is normal for
people to experience some mood changes as we go through
the regular ups and downs of life. In contrast, individuals
with bipolar disorder experience extreme mood and energy
changes that can affect all aspects of their lives.
Generally speaking, a person with bipolar disorder
moves between two opposite extremes - manic episodes
and depressive episodes. Symptoms of a manic episode
may include feeling extremely happy and outgoing, being
agitated and jumpy, having an increased desire to take
on new projects, and engaging in impulsive behavior
or decision making. Symptoms of depression may include
feeling worried, empty, and tired, losing interest in
activities, and having thoughts of death or suicide.
Individuals with bipolar disorder experience these different
"mood episodes" in different ways and fluctuate
between them in a variety of patterns and frequency.
Bipolar disorder often develops in a person's late
teen or early adult years. At least half of all cases
start (although they may not be diagnosed) before age
25. Some people have their first symptoms during childhood,
while others may develop symptoms late in life.
Bipolar disorder is not easy to spot when it starts.
The symptoms may seem like separate problems, rather
than recognized as parts of a larger problem. Some people
suffer for years before they are properly diagnosed
and treated. Like diabetes or heart disease, bipolar
disorder is a long-term illness that must be monitored
throughout a person's lifetime.
What is the treatment?
Bipolar disorder is a chronic condition that usually
extends throughout a person's lifetime. However, with
appropriate treatment and support, individuals with
this illness can live long, full lives. The first step
in treatment is being correctly diagnosed. Because bipolar
disorder shares symptoms with other conditions such
as depression, anxiety, and ADHD, it is important to
work with licensed professionals to determine the correct
Treatment usually includes one or more medications
as well as psychological counseling and education. Medical
treatments for bipolar disorder include mood stabilizers
(such as lithium and valproic acid), atypical antipsychotic
medications, and antidepressants. These medications
can help to stabilize a person's moods, prevent them
from swinging back and forth between manic and depressive
episodes, and control extreme symptoms and reactions.
As with most drugs, these medications may have side
effects, and it is important to work with your doctor
to learn about them.
There are a variety of psychotherapy treatments used
to treat bipolar disorder. These treatments help the
individual and their loved ones to understand the illness,
recognize the symptoms of new episodes, and learn coping
mechanisms to help them continue to function in their
work and social lives.
The best treatment for bipolar disorder is continuous
treatment. Over time and with support, individuals experiencing
manic-depressive illness can learn to recognize and
manage their symptoms before they become more severe.
Learning to live with bipolar disorder requires compassion,
patience, and vigilance.