Bipolar disorder is a serious mental health disorder characterized by tremendous changes in mood that range from the deepest lows of depression to the highs of mania. During a manic cycle, people with bipolar disorder may talk very fast, jumping from one topic to another, need little sleep, and are easily distracted. Symptoms of mania may make a person feel invincible, which may cause them to engage in a number of risk-taking behaviors they would otherwise not engage in. On the other end of bipolar disorder, people in a depressive cycle experience an extended period of feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness. During the depressive cycle, affected individuals have no interest engaging in the world around them, have problems concentrating, and may even experience thoughts of suicide. Mixed bipolar episodes occur when the symptoms of depression and mania occur at the same time, which can be extremely dangerous.
Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive disorder, is a serious mental health condition that includes extreme mood swings that range from deep depression to the highs of mania. When an individual is in a depressive cycle, they may feel sad, hopeless, and be uninterested in activities they used to enjoy. When their mood shifts into a manic state, that same individual may feel full of energy and completely euphoric about life. These mood shifts can occur several times a day or may only occur a few times throughout a year. Additionally, mixed bipolar episodes occur when the symptoms of depression and mania happen together. There are several different subtypes of bipolar disorder, each one containing a different pattern of symptoms. Types of bipolar disorder include:
Bipolar I disorder: The mood swings associated with bipolar I disorder involve highly disorganized, full-blown manic symptoms, involving erratic behaviors that can negatively impact daily life. Symptoms of depression can be severe enough that some people may contemplate ending their own life.
Bipolar II disorder is a more mild form of bipolar disorder. While people who have bipolar II will experience milder manic and depressive cycles, these symptoms are still severe enough to cause significant impairment in activities of daily living.
Cyclothymia or cyclothymic disorder is another even milder form of bipolar disorder. The cycles of mania and depression are disruptive to daily living, however these cycles are not as severe in bipolar I and bipolar II disorder.
Rapid-cycling bipolar disorder is a very severe form of bipolar disorder and is diagnosed when a person experiences four or more episodes of depression, mania, hypomania, or mixed states within one year.
While bipolar disorder is a long-term, disruptive condition, an individual can keep their moods stabilized with proper medications and treatment.
Bipolar disorder affects approximately 5.7 million adults (or 2.6% of the population) in the United States each year. While bipolar disorder affects men and women equally, about three times as many women experience rapid-cycling bipolar disorder. The median age of onset for bipolar disorder is 25 years of age, however the illness can develop in childhood or as late as in the 40s or 50s.
Causes and Risk Factors for Bipolar Disorder
The exact cause of bipolar disorder has yet to be determined, but research has shown that there are several factors that seem to be involved in both the development and triggering of bipolar episodes. It is generally accepted that bipolar disorder is the result of genetic, physical, environmental, and risk factors working together. The most common causes and risk factors for bipolar disorder include:
Genetic: Bipolar disorder tends to have an inherited component and is more common in people who have a blood relative with the disorder. Researchers are still trying to identify genes that may be involved in the development of this disorder.
Physical: Neuroimaging studies such as MRIs and CT scans have shown changes in the structure and function of the brains of those who have bipolar disorder. The prefrontal cortex of the brain, used for solving problems and making decisions, has been noted to be smaller and function less well than in those who do not have a similar history. Additionally, an imbalance in naturally-occurring neurotransmitters can play a large role in developing bipolar disorder.
Environmental: It’s thought that many people who develop bipolar disorder are reacting to stress-related events and past and present traumas in their lives.
- Substance use and abuse
- Major life changes
- Childhood trauma, abuse, neglect
- Being in your 20s
Signs and Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
The symptoms of bipolar disorder are different from person to person and depend upon the specific subtype an individual is diagnosed with. Some individuals are more affected by depressive symptoms, while others may be more impacted by the symptoms of mania. In some instances individuals will experience mixed episodes, in which the symptoms of both depression and mania occur at the same time. Some of the most common symptoms of bipolar disorder include:
Manic (or hypomanic) Symptoms:
- Poor judgment
- Inflated self-esteem and sense of self
- Aggressive behavior
- Racing thoughts
- Risky behaviors
- Agitation or irritation
- Increased physical activity
- Easily distracted
- Spending sprees or other bad financial choices
- Decreased need for sleep
- Frequent absences from work or school
- Sleep problems
- Low or increased appetite
- Problems concentrating
- Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
- Problems concentrating
- Chronic pain without known cause
- Suicidal thoughts or behavior
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.
Effects of Bipolar Disorder
If left untreated or improperly diagnosed, the symptoms of bipolar disorder will cause more extensive damage to an individual’s life. Long-term complications and effects of bipolar disorder may include:
- Social isolation
- Abuse and eventually addiction to drugs or alcohol
- Legal problems and/or incarceration
- Damaged interpersonal relationships
- Poor performance in school or at work
- Loss of job or expulsion from school
- Suicidal ideation
People who have bipolar disorder may also struggle with other types of mental health disorders. The most common co-occurring, comorbid mental health disorders include:
- Substance abuse and addiction
- Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder
- Anxiety disorders
- Conduct disorder
- Intermittent explosive disorder
- Disruptive behavior disorders