Bipolar disorder is a condition that causes emotions to swing from one extreme to another. By definition, this disorder is characterized by extreme phases of depression and mania (or hypomania, which is low-level mania). In the past, many people knew bipolar disorder as manic depression. The three types of bipolar disorder are bipolar I, bipolar II and cyclothymia.
All types of bipolar disorder include depressive episodes. Bipolar I disorder includes depression and at least one episode of strong mania. Bipolar II disorder contains depression and at least one episode of mild mania, or hypomania. Cyclothymic disorder, the least intrusive of the three disorders, includes a constant low-level of depression along with one or more episodes of hypomania.
Mania can be particularly trying, especially in bipolar I disorder. A person’s impulsivity is likely to increase, along with episodes of inability to concentrate well and elevated activity levels. Mania may last as little as a day, but that heightened state can last for at least 4 days.1
Bipolar disease is a treatable brain disorder.2 It is sometimes confused for other mental health conditions, such attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). For example, although it can be found in any age group, bipolar disorder is slightly rare among children, whose demonstrations of manic activity followed by episodes of unexplained irritability and anger are more likely to be considered a case of ADHD.
The Confusing Effects of Bipolar Disorder
The mood shifts caused by bipolar disorder may happen as frequently as several times a year or only once or twice in a lifetime3 Depressive episodes that characterize true bipolar disorder may cause you to feel hopeless- a sensation that combines feeling poorly with a perceived inability to do anything to make things better. This is often because bipolar disorder manipulates serotonin and epinephrine hormone transmissions, which directly affect emotion and energy. The opposite swing is a feeling of high energy and optimism, anger, or a mix of intense emotions. Feelings can also range in fluxes that sometimes include feeling inordinately negative but full of energy to constantly act on that energy, or feeling optimistic but having too little energy to carry out what you would like to do.
If you suffer from bipolar disorder, then no doubt these emotion, activity and energy level fluctuations severely impact your capacity to carry on daily activities in life. Any aspect of your life can be affected, because the disorder causes you to feel differently about situations than you would if you were healthy. While in one moment you can be known for being gregarious, positive and engaging, that impression can become confused the moment you switch to not having the energy to pay attention to relationships, work or school responsibilities.
This can be frustrating to you, as you may try to figure out why you are feeling so low on energy or so negative about life by pinning blame on whatever reason you can come up with. Friends and family may not understand your behavior and may accuse you of being inconsistent or hard to understand, perhaps even fickle. This is not the case, however- being bipolar is not a character flaw, it is an illness. Learning more about the disorder will help you to understand and to manage it more effectively.
Helpful Information Regarding Bipolar Disorder and Treatment
Research has suggested that children who experience trauma are 2 to 3 times more likely to become bipolar patients later in life. However, this disorder often has a genetic component. Those who suffer from the disorder genetically are also believed to be in danger of becoming aggravated into more frequent bipolar swings if they experience traumatic situations. 4 Bipolar disorder often becomes quite evident between the late teens and the age of 25, but many people go undiagnosed for years.
People who actually have bipolar disorder are often treated instead for depression. This is because it is easy to recognize the depression stages as a problem, but when someone feels the manic stages of bipolar disorder, including the high energy levels, talkativeness, and increase in activity, that person may not recognize that anything is out of place.
Maybe you have spoken to your doctor about feeling negative and depressed- but if you also manifest the excitable, manic symptoms of bipolar disorder, have you also mentioned those? Taking antidepressants to relieve the depressive state while failing to treat the manic element will further aggravate the bipolar disorder. It is important that you mention both symptoms to a doctor so that you can be properly diagnosed and treated.
Bipolar disorder is a long-term illness, but it can be treated quite well. Psychotherapy is often an option along with medication. Bright light exposure and exercise are known to increase serotonin levels, which will help to lift one naturally out of depressive stages. It is recommended that bipolar persons do not take antidepressants, but if you are currently taking them, do not stop until you have approval to do so from your doctor. Also recommended in bipolar management are a stable sleep schedule, a healthy diet, and a good social support network.
1. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. Washington, D.C: American Psychiatric Association.
2. National Institute of Mental Health. “Bipolar disorder in adults.” Found online 2/2/16 at http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/bipolar-disorder-in-adults/index.shtml.
3. Mayo Clinic. “Bipolar disorder.” Found online 2/2/16 at http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bipolar-disorder/basics/definition/con-20027544.
4. American Psychiatric Association. Psychiatric News: Vol 49, No 12. “Negative life experiences may contribute to bipolar disorder.” Arehart-Treichel: Author. Published 16 June, 2014. Found online 2/2/16 at http://psychnews.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi.pn.2014.6b2.