Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a mental health condition characterized by extreme shifts in mood, energy, and activity levels. These shifts in mood move from episodes of mania, characterized by high energy and euphoria, to episodes of depression, characterized by low energy, sadness, and hopelessness.
Types of Bipolar Disorder
There are two main types of bipolar disorder: bipolar I and bipolar II. Bipolar I disorder is characterized by manic episodes that last at least seven days or manic symptoms that are so severe that the person needs emergency hospitalization. Individuals with Bipolar I disorder also experience depressive episodes that last at least two weeks but must not be present to make a diagnosis.
On the other hand, bipolar II disorder is characterized by a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes (a milder form of mania). Diagnosis of bipolar II disorder requires the person to have experienced at least one hypomanic episode and at least one depressive episode in their lifetime.
Common Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
The symptoms of bipolar disorder vary depending on the type of episode.
- Excessive happiness, excitement, or euphoria
- Extreme irritability or agitation
- Increased energy and activity levels
- Racing thoughts and rapid speech
- Impulsivity and poor judgment, such as engaging in risky behaviors or spending sprees
- Reduced need for sleep
- Grandiose thinking and inflated self-esteem
- Distracted easily
- Delusions or hallucinations (in severe cases)
- Persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
- Significant changes in appetite and weight
- Insomnia or excessive sleeping
- Fatigue or lack of energy
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Thoughts of suicide or self-harm
- Poor sleeping patterns
- A negative outlook on life
- Social isolation
- Low self-esteem and poor self-image
What Causes Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a complex mental health condition that is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic, biological, and environmental factors.
Genetics: Research suggests that bipolar disorder may have a genetic component, as it tends to run in families. Studies have isolated different gene variants thought to be responsible for the heritability of bipolar disorder.
Biological factors: Abnormalities in the brain’s structure and function may contribute to the development of bipolar disorder. Abnormalities in the levels of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the brain) have been found in people with the disorder.
Environmental factors: Trauma, stress, and other environmental factors may trigger the onset of bipolar disorder or worsen symptoms. This can include things like major life changes, physical/emotional abuse, or the loss of a loved one.
Is Bipolar Disorder Treatable?
Bipolar disorder is highly treatable. Treatment typically includes a combination of medication, psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes. Medications used to treat bipolar disorder include mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, and antidepressants.
Psychotherapy, primarily cognitive-behavioral therapy, can also help individuals manage their symptoms and improve their overall functioning. Lifestyle changes, such as maintaining a regular sleep schedule, exercising regularly, and avoiding alcohol and drugs, can also go a long way in helping reduce the intensity and frequency of bipolar episodes.
The Bottom Line
Bipolar disorder is a debilitating and potentially life-threatening mental illness. But with the right treatment and support, it is manageable. If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the above symptoms, don’t hesitate to seek help as soon as possible. The sooner you get help, the better your chances are of effectively managing your symptoms.