Bipolar disorder affects about 2.3 million people in the United States, and globally, it affects roughly 60 million people, according to the World Health Organization.  It can be a debilitating illness if not treated.

Most people experience many highs and lows in their lives, depending on circumstances and situations. It is natural to feel elated when something good happens and very “down in the dumps” when experiencing a negative occurrence. It is possible to feel both of these on the same day or within the same period. However, this is not what bipolar disorder is.

The National Institute on Mental Illness (NIMH) defines bipolar disorder as an illness that is marked by sudden shifts in mood, energy, and activity levels. When someone has a bipolar episode, it can affect their ability to perform day-to-day activities. A person with bipolar disorder will have more extreme mood shifts and energy levels than someone who is depressed about life, for instance.

It is estimated that 2.8 percent of adults in the U.S., or roughly 5 million people, have been given a bipolar disorder diagnosis, as indicated by Healthline. The average age of those diagnosed with it is age 25.

Bipolar disorder can be dangerous for those who have it but have not been diagnosed. It is imperative to seek medical advice when symptoms first appear or are experienced. If not, the disorder can create difficulty in a person’s life. They can:

  • Develop a substance use disorder (SUD)
  • Have strained personal, professional relationships
  • Create serious financial issues
  • Have poor school or work performance and absence
  • Create legal problems
  • Harm themselves or others
  • Have suicidal ideations or die by suicide

 In this light, we encourage you to read more about bipolar disorder, its causes, and how to obtain treatment.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a mental health disorder that affects the brain. It brings on various and unusual changes in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out daily tasks, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). It can be referred to as manic-depressive disorder or manic-depressive illness. 

When people have bipolar disorder, they can be happy and energetic at one time and feeling “blue” or “down in the dumps” the next. This cycling between dramatic changes in moods can be extreme and lead to impaired thinking and reasoning, risky behavior, and suicidal tendencies. 

Therapy and medication can be used to treat bipolar disorder. When properly diagnosed and treated, people with bipolar disorder can lead healthy lives despite it being a lifelong condition.

What Causes Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar woman contemplating life.The Mayo Clinic defines bipolar disorder as a “mental health condition that causes extreme mood swings that include emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression).” They say that when someone becomes depressed, they’ll feel sad or hopeless and lose interest in most activities. When mood shifts to mania, they may feel full of energy, euphoric, or can be unusually irritable.

It is essential to note that mood swing episodes may happen hardly at all or many times a year. Some may not experience any mood swings at all.

The renowned medical and research clinic states that several factors might be involved, such as genetics. If a person has a first-degree relative with the disorder, such as a parent or sibling, they could develop the condition. Some people may have biological differences that contribute to the disorder, such as physical changes to the structure of the brain. Other risk factors might include traumatic events or substance use and addiction.

Bipolar Disorder Types

The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) lists the four basic types of bipolar disorder.

Bipolar I Disorder

The person has experienced one or more episodes of mania. The majority of people diagnosed with bipolar I will have experienced episodes of both depression and mania. Manic episodes should last at least seven days or be so severe enough to require hospitalization.

Hospitalization ensures the individual will not hurt themselves or anyone else. An individual with bipolar I disorder could have a mental disorder where they lose touch with reality and struggle to socialize and/or work with other people.

NAMI also notes that depressive episodes can last two weeks. It is relevant to relay that it is possible for an individual to experience manic symptoms and depression simultaneously.

According to Healthline, an individual with bipolar I may feel impulsive, euphoric, and engage in unsafe activities, such as going on a spending spree, practicing unsafe sex, or abusing substances.

Bipolar II Disorder

The individual will experience depressive episodes shifting back and forth between hypomanic and depressive episodes. They will never go through a “full” manic episode. A hypomanic episode is less extreme than a “full” manic episode.

WebMD states that a person with bipolar II who has a hypomanic episode will present symptoms like:

  • Flipping from one idea to the next suddenly
  • Having exaggerated self-confidence
  • Rapid, unbroken, and loud speech
  • High energy, with hyperactivity and a decreased need for sleep

According to WebMD, people who have bipolar II disorder struggle with depression more. These depressive episodes can happen between periods of hypomania, or they can occur after hypomania periods end. Some people will go back and forth between hypomania and depression. 

It is critical to note that bipolar II disorder is not a milder form of bipolar I disorder; it is a separate diagnosis, as the Mayo Clinic indicates.

Medical News Today says depression is the main mood indicator for bipolar II. It also notes that individuals with bipolar II are more likely to have depression 50 percent of the time, as opposed to those with bipolar I, where depression is likely 30 percent of the time.

The last two disorders are considered less rare than the types listed above.

Cyclothymic Disorder

The individual will have chronically unstable moods where they experience hypomania and mild depression for at least two years for adults, and at least one year in children. Those with cyclothymia might have short periods of having a normal mood. However, the normal mood usually lasts less than eight weeks.

However, the symptoms experienced do not meet the diagnostic requirements for hypomanic, depressive episodes.

Other Specified and Unspecified Bipolar and Related Disorders

The individual does not meet the criteria for bipolar I, bipolar II, or cyclothymia but has experienced clinically significant abnormal mood elevation periods.

Bipolar Disorder Signs or Symptoms

There are three main categories of signs or symptoms that may help determine if an individual should have medical help to diagnose a bipolar disorder.

Mania and Hypomania

The Mayo Clinic reports that there are two distinct types of episodes, which have the same symptoms: mania and hypomania.

Hypomania is less severe than mania. Mania can cause noticeable changes in work, school, and relationships. Mania may also trigger psychosis, or a break from reality, and require hospitalization.

Both types of episodes might include three or more of these symptoms:

  • Unusually wired, upbeat, or jumpy
  • Increased energy, activity, or agitation
  • An exaggerated sense of self-confidence or sense of well-being
  • Less need for sleep
  • Unusually talkative
  • Racing thoughts
  • Easily distracted
  • Poor decision making, like taking unusual risks in activities that they usually would not

A hypomanic episode should last at least four days, and at least three or more of the symptoms above need to occur. An individual with these symptoms may think everything is OK, but the people in their lives might notice significant changes in their behavior.

Major Depressive Episode

A major depressive episode includes five or more of these symptoms:

  • Feeling empty, sad, hopeless, or tearful (For children and teens, it can appear as irritability.)
  • A noticeable loss of interest or feeling no pleasure in all, or almost all regular activities
  • Noticeable weight loss when not on a weight loss plan, weight gain, or a decrease in appetite. For children, failure to gain weight when expected is a sign of depression.
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Restlessness or sleeping too much
  • Constant fatigue or loss of energy
  • Feeling worthless or having excessive or inappropriate guilt
  • Inability to concentrate or to think, or indecisiveness
  • Suicide ideation or suicide attempt

Depressive episodes can be hard to manage when episodes of euphoria and high energy have worn off.  Rapid cycling between hypomania and major depressive episodes is common in bipolar II disorder.

Bipolar Disorder Treatment

Fortunately, there is treatment available for all types of bipolar disorder. Treatment is designed to help the individual manage their symptoms so that they can carry on with their daily lives. Treatment approaches vary based on the needs of the individual. Combinations of medications, therapy programs, substance use treatments, and sometimes, hospitalization can be beneficial for bipolar disorder treatment. 

Psychological counseling is also helpful in controlling symptoms. Education about the disorder might help the individual in treatment learn about what they have and how to live with it every day. Support groups offer camaraderie and advice from those who are living with bipolar disorder. 

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