Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that causes dramatic changes in a person’s mood, energy and ability to think clearly. People with bipolar experience high and low moods—known as mania and depression—which are different than regular ups and downs people have.
The average age of people with Bipolar starts at 25, but it can occur in the teens, or more uncommonly, in childhood. The condition affects men and women equally, with about 2.8% of the U.S. population diagnosed with bipolar disorder and nearly 83% of them considered severe.
If the person doesn’t get help, bipolar disorder usually worsens. But, with a good treatment plan including therapy, medications, a healthy lifestyle, many people live well with the condition.
Types of Bipolar
There are Four Types of Bipolar Disorder:
• Bipolar I Disorder is an illness in which people have experienced one or more episodes of mania. Most people diagnosed with bipolar I will have episodes of both mania and depression, though an episode of depression is not necessary for a diagnosis. To be diagnosed with bipolar I, a person’s manic episodes must last at least seven days or be so severe that hospitalization is required.
• Bipolar II Disorder is a subset of bipolar disorder in which people experience depressive episodes shifting back and forth with hypomanic episodes, but never a “full” manic episode.
• Cyclothymic Disorder or Cyclothymia is a chronically unstable mood state in which people experience hypomania and mild depression for at least two years. People with cyclothymia may have brief periods of normal mood, but these periods last less than eight weeks.
• Bipolar Disorder, “other specified” and “unspecified” is when a person does not meet the criteria for bipolar I, II or cyclothymia but has still experienced periods of clinically significant abnormal mood elevation.
Symptoms can be different with everyone. A person with bipolar disorder may have strong manic or depressed states but can also go years without symptoms. A person can also experience both extremes at the same time or one after another.
Severe bipolar episodes of mania or depression may include psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations or delusions. These depend on a persons mood. People with bipolar disorder who have psychotic symptoms might be wrongly diagnosed as having schizophrenia.
Mania: To be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a person must have experienced mania or hypomania. Hypomania is a milder form of mania that doesn’t include psychotic episodes. People with hypomania can often fit in well with friends and family. Some people with bipolar disorder will have episodes of mania or hypomania many times in their life; others may experience them rarely.
Although someone with bipolar may find mania to be desirable—especially if it occurs after depression. The “high” can keep increasing until the person is uncomfortable. Behavior and judgement can be more unpredictable. During periods of mania, people can be impulsive, make reckless decisions and take unusual risks.
Most of the time, people in manic states are unaware of the consequences of their actions. With bipolar disorder, suicidal thoughts and tendencies are common. Being aware of your symptoms can help manage them.
Depression: The lows of bipolar depression are often so bad, that people may not want to get out of bed. People experiencing a depressive episode have difficulty falling and staying asleep or sleep a lot. When people are depressed, even minor decisions such as what to eat for dinner can be overwhelming. They may become obsessed with feelings of loss, personal failure, guilt or helplessness; this negative thinking can lead to thoughts of suicide. The depressive symptoms must last at least two weeks for a diagnosis. Depression associated with bipolar disorder may be more difficult to treat.
Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment
Scientists have not yet discovered a single cause of bipolar disorder. Currently, they believe several factors may contribute, including:
• Genetics – The chances of developing bipolar disorder are more common if a child’s parents or siblings have the disorder but not always. A child from a family with a history of bipolar disorder may never develop the disorder. Studies of identical twins have found that, even if one twin develops the disorder, the other may not.
• Stress – A stressful event such as a death, an illness, or a difficult relationship can trigger a manic or depressive episode. So, a person not handling their stress may cause the development of the illness.
• Brain structure and function – Brain scans cannot diagnose bipolar disorder, yet researchers have noticed a difference between brain structures in people with bipolar disorder.
Should be diagnosed by a doctor or health care professional.
Bipolar disorder is treated and managed in several ways:
• Self-awareness, including education programs and assistance through schools
People with bipolar disorder can also experience:
• Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
• Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
People with bipolar disorder and psychotic symptoms can be wrongly diagnosed with schizophrenia. Bipolar disorder can be also misdiagnosed as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).
These other illnesses and misdiagnoses can make it hard to treat bipolar disorder.