Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a mental illness that presents unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels and ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.
It is much more severe than the normal ups and downs of everyday life: it can manifest as psychotic episodes and sometimes suicide. It is very damaging to relationships and job or school performance.
There are three types of “mood episodes” that bipolar patients experience: mania, a state of extreme joyfulness; depression, feelings of severe sadness; or mixed, symptoms of both mania and depression.
There are four types of bipolar disorders. Bipolar 1 is defined by manic or mixed episodes that last seven or more days or manic symptoms that require immediate hospitalization, such as psychosis. Depressive episodes in Bipolar 1 typically last two weeks.
Bipolar 2 is defined more primarily by depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes (presenting as significantly less severe mania) but no full-blown manic or mixed episodes.
Bipolar disorder not otherwise specified (BP-NOS) occurs when a person’s symptoms do not fit the diagnostic criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Health (DSM) but whose behavior is obviously out of normal range.
And lastly, cyclothymia is a mild form of bipolar disorder which typically lasts two years but which symptoms also do not meet diagnostic requirements.
Bipolar patients experience different symptoms based on what kind of mood episode they are experiencing.
During mania, bipolar patients can experience any of the following: talking very fast, jumping from one idea to another and having racing thoughts; being easily distracted; randomly taking on new projects, such as painting their bedrooms; being overly restless; sleeping very little or not being tired; having unrealistic belief in their abilities, such as believing they can fly or read people’s thoughts; behaving impulsively and engaging in pleasurable, high-risk behavior such as substance abuse or shoplifting.
Depressive episodes result in many opposing symptoms: loss of interest in formerly enjoyable activities; feeling overly tired; having problems concentrating, remembering or making decisions; being restless or irritable; changing sleeping or eating habits; considering or even attempting suicide.
Sometimes, bipolar patients also experience psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations or delusions. For example, if you are having psychotic symptoms during a manic episode, you may believe you are a famous person, have a lot of money or have special powers. If you are having psychotic symptoms during a depressive episode, you may believe you are ruined and penniless, or you have committed a crime.
Treatments for bipolar disorder include medications, typically mood stabilizers, such as Lithium or anticonvulsants, such as Lamictal. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a form of psychotherapy, is also effective in the treatment of bipolar disorder.