What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder, sometimes called manic-depressive disorder, is a disorder that results in major mood changes. These are not simple ordinary fluctuations in mood. These repeating mood changes often range from the lows of depression (excessive sadness) to the highs of mania (feeling elated, excessive energy, impulsive behaviors) and hypomania (excessive energy). Because of these dramatic shifts in mood, bipolar disorder can result in relationship problems, school or work problems, and people may feel stuck due to falling into a repeating cycle. Untreated bipolar disorder often leads to being hospitalized, experiencing increasingly irrational thinking that results in dangerous behavior, and a risk of suicide. It can also result in engaging in “pie in the sky” business ventures, spending sprees, gambling sprees, or sexual indiscretions. Cyclothymia is a lower-level (without the extremes) form of bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder can disrupt all aspects of a person’s life. However, with proper treatment people can learn to manage their moods and live successful and fulfilling lives.

How Prevalent is Bipolar Disorder?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 5.7 million American adults have bipolar disorder. The majority of people first notice symptoms between ages 15 to 30 years. It is uncommon, but not unheard of to develop the first symptoms of bipolar as a child. Bipolar disorder is about as equally common in men and women.

What Causes Bipolar Disorder?

The specific cause of bipolar disorder is not clear. The problem is believed to be related to a chemical imbalance in the brain. Research suggests that specific bipolar episodes can be triggered by stressful events.

How Do I Know if I Need Help?

Despite the mood extremes, people with bipolar disorder often don’t recognize how much their emotional instability or their irrational or risky behavior disrupts their lives and the lives of those around them. Often times, people with bipolar disorder enjoy the feelings of the highs of mania and the feeling of seeming less endless energy. One big problem is that these “highs” can result in bad decisions and are always followed by an “emotional crash” that can leave the person depressed and in despair. If you are experiencing repeated or severe mood swings, you need to seek help because bipolar disorder does not improve without proper treatment.

What Are Some of the Signs and Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?

The primary symptoms of bipolar disorder are dramatic and unpredictable mood swings that can cause problems in many areas of your life. When you become depressed, you may feel sad or hopeless and lose interest or pleasure in most activities. When your mood shifts in the other direction, you may feel great and full of energy, but act impulsively or make dangerous decisions without considering the consequences. Mood shifts may occur only a few times a year, or as often as several times a day.

Getting the Help You Need

Treatments typically include medication and counseling to regain control in their lives by learning better ways to manage mood swings. Psychotherapy can help people with bipolar disorder learn to change their harmful thought and behavior patterns, identify mood swing triggers, improve communication, and manage their daily routines to protect against future mood swings. With proper help, people can regain control and move forward in their lives.


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― David Richo

Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol, morphine or idealism.”

― C.G. Jung

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