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Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder (formerly known as Manic Depression) affects about one percent of the population. In the United States alone, more than two million Americans live with this disease. This disorder is characterized by mood swings of emotional highs (mania) and lows (depression). Bipolar Disorder is a chronic mental illness that affects an individual's mood, thoughts, energy and behavior. It can also greatly impact an individual's level of functioning as well as work, family and social life.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

Individuals typically begin to exhibit symptoms during late adolescence and early adulthood. Symptoms include cycling episodes of depression and mania, each episode lasting weeks or even months. The intensity and frequency of these episodes will vary for each individual. If treated, there will likely be periods of stability without symptoms.

 Bipolar DisorderSymptoms of a Depressed Episode

  • Persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, guilt or hopelessness
  • Disturbances in sleep and appetite
  • Fatigue and loss of interest in daily activities
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Recurring thoughts of death/suicide

Symptoms of a Manic Episode

  • Extremely elevated or irritable mood
  • Rapid speech, racing thoughts, agitation
  • Unrealistic beliefs in one's abilities and powers
  • Poor judgment and recklessness (excessive spending, sexual promiscuity, foolish business investments, use of alcohol or drugs)
  • Needing little sleep yet having increased energy
  • Inability to concentrate, distractible

In severe cases, an individual may also experience hallucinations and delusions during their mania or depression. Some individuals have "mixed episode" in which symptoms of both manic and depression co-exist daily for one week or longer. Individuals with Bipolar Disorder are at a high risk for substance abuse. In fact, almost 60 percent of those diagnosed struggle with substance abuse or dependence.

Causes of Bipolar Disorder

Although there is no known precise cause of this disease, research indicates that abnormalities in biochemistry and brain structure contribute to the extreme mood shifts. There is also a genetic component to Bipolar Disorder. Children who have a bipolar parent are at a higher risk of developing the disease.

Treatment Options

Diagnosis is made by a professional who examines current and previous symptoms, the course of the illness and family history. Once diagnosed, treatment is immediate and typically consists of medication and therapy. Although there is no cure, effective treatment can stabilize mood and improve functioning.

  • Medication (mood stabilizers and antidepressants): The most effective treatment by significantly reducing the intensity and frequency of the episodes
  • Therapy: Recommended in addition to medication, it can help to recognize warning signs, stay adherent to medications, provide techniques to manage stress and substance abuse as well as provide individual and family education/support
  • Hospitalization: Needed with extreme manic episode or severe depression in which the individual is a danger to self or to others

Importance of Psychiatric Treatment

If manic, people may not recognize the need to seek professional help due to the pleasurable "high". If untreated, mania can lead to illegal or life-threatening behavior due to impaired judgment. It is beneficial to educate family and friends about the disorder as they may recognize early warning signs and symptoms of unstable mood. They can support and encourage the individual to stay in treatment.

More Information

For more information about mental health issues, visit the Web sites listed in the Resource Library below. The HOPE Portal, powered by 211 Northeast Michigan, is a web-based resource connecting people to the help they need in a just a few clicks. Visit the HOPE Portal or call 211.

Literature

Check the Psychology/Mental Health sections of your local bookstore for books on Bipolar Disorder.