Bipolar disorder, previously termed manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, activity levels, energy and the ability to carry out everyday tasks. The mood shifts can range from periods of energized, elated behavior (manic episodes) or less extreme manic episodes (hypomanic episodes), to periods of feeling hopeless and sad (known as depressive episodes).
There are four main types of bipolar disorders:
- Bipolar I is defined by manic episodes that last 7 days or more, or by severe manic symptoms that call for immediate hospitalization. Usually, depressive episodes occur as well, and they will typically last 2 weeks or more. Episodes of simultaneous manic and depressive symptoms are also possible.
- Bipolar II is defined by a pattern of depressive and hypomanic episodes, but not the full-blown manic episodes seen in Bipolar 1.
- Cyclothymic disorder is characterized by numerous periods of hypomanic symptoms and numerous periods of depressive symptoms lasting for 2 years and more (or, in children and adolescent, for 1 year or more), but not meeting the requirements to be classified as a ‘hypomanic episode’ and a ‘depressive episode’.
- Other Specified and Unspecified Bipolar and Related Disorders these disorders will be marked by bipolar disorder symptoms that do not match the three categories listed above.
People with bipolar disorder experience ‘mood episodes’, which are drastically different from the normal mood and behaviors typical of that person. The mood episodes can encompass unusually intense emotion, changes in activity levels and sleep patterns, and unusual behaviors.
People having a manic episode may:
- Feel intensely elated or ‘high’
- Feel jittery or wired
- Have difficulty sleeping
- Be more active than normal
- Talk very quickly about a variety of subjects
- Be irritable, sensitive or agitated
- Think they can do many things simultaneously
- Exhibit risky or reckless behavior
People having a depressive episode may:
- Feel very gloomy or sad
- See changes in their sleep patterns, sleeping too little or too much
- Feel as if they can’t enjoy anything
- Feel empty and anxious
- Have difficulty concentrating
- Become forgetful
- See changes in their eating patterns – eating too little or too much
- Feel tired or lethargic
- Have thoughts about suicide or death
While there is no definitive answer as to what causes bipolar disorders, there are several factors that may contribute to the illness. Some research suggests that certain genes as well as family history and brain structure and functioning all play a part.
- If you or a family member has bipolar disorder, it is important to get treatment and stick to it. While recovery will take time and is not always easy, treatment will help you start to feel better. The best way to help yourself is to take your medication as indicated, set a routine for sleeping and eating, learn to recognize your mood swings, ask your family and friends for support and be patient, understand that it will take time.