Bipolar Disorder is a serious mental illness that causes a dramatic shift in a person’s mood, energy, and ability to function because of a chemical imbalance in the brain. A “manic” episode is accompanied by an increase in energy and feelings of euphoria, as well as difficulty sleeping and managing normal, day-to-day tasks. Inevitably, this type of behavior shifts and the person becomes depressed or shows signs of having “mixed mania,” where they are elated and depressed at the same time. Each episode of mania or depression can last for hours, weeks, or several months.
This disorder affects more than 5 million people in the U.S., and although there is not a cure, Bipolar Disorder can be managed with a combination of medication and behavioral therapy to address mood changes, behavioral problems, and issues with interpersonal relationships. Research shows that steady, dependable treatment is more effective than treatment that stops and starts over and over. In severe cases, treatment may require electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) to provide a quick electric current that can sometimes correct problems in the brain.
Although mental health professionals cannot fully pinpoint the cause of Bipolar Disorder, oftentimes people who have a family history of mental illness are more susceptible. Others believe that Bipolar Disorder is caused by problems with specific brain circuits and the balance of three brain chemicals, known as norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine.
Signs of Bipolar Disorder
- Feeling overly happy or high for long stretches of time
- Feeling easily agitated, which some describe as feeling jumpy or twitchy
- Talking very fast, often accompanied by racing thoughts
- Extreme restlessness or impulsivity
- Impaired judgment
- Unrealistic overconfidence in one’s abilities
- Engaging in risky behavior such as gambling away one’s life savings, going on huge spending sprees, having impulsive sex, or abusing alcohol and drugs
Common types of Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar I is often characterized as someone having “manic” depression. It is easily diagnosed because symptoms are so severe that there is rarely any doubt. In many cases, the person’s behavior quickly escalates into extreme elation until they are out of control and may require hospitalization. This cycles rapidly. To be diagnosed as Bipolar I, a person must show characterizations of an elevated, expansive, or irritable mood with an extreme change in behavior lasting more than seven days.
Bipolar II is far more common than Bipolar I and is characterized by much less severe manic symptoms. This diagnosis is often referred to as “hypomanic,” and symptoms make it difficult for someone to realize they are sick. As result, Bipolar II often goes untreated. Without proper treatment, hypomania becomes worse and oftentimes the person becomes severely manic or depressed.