Understanding Bipolar Disorder
Learn About Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder is a mental illness hallmarked by highs and lows in mood. Individuals who have bipolar disorder experience very elevated or agitated mood states, known as mania or hypomania that alternate with periods of depression. Mania can occur at many different levels of severity. Individuals who experience hypomanic episodes may appear to be bursting with energy, highly excitable, and very productive. More severe cases of mania may involve erratic behaviors due to poor decision-making skills along with impulsive behaviors, such as deciding to cash in college funds to fund a gambling tour of Vegas. At its most severe form individuals experience distorted beliefs about the world and may develop psychosis.
Bipolar disorder occurs in several forms ranging from mild to very severe. Bipolar I disorder involves cycles of extreme moods such as mania and depression. Bipolar II is a milder form of bipolar disorder and involves less severe mood states – hypomania and depression – than bipolar I disorder. Cyclothymic disorder involves periods of hypomania and depression that are not as extensive or long-lasting as seen in the other two disorders. Rapid-cycling bipolar disorder is characterized by four or more mood cycles that occur within one year’s time. Individuals who have rapid-cycling bipolar disorder are more likely to experience severe depression and suicidal ideation. Mixed episodes of bipolar disorder occur when an individual experiences both depressive and manic episodes concurrently and are by far the most dangerous of all bipolar episodes.
While bipolar disorder is a debilitating mental illness, there is hope for individuals struggling with this disorder. Bipolar disorder is a chronic, yet treatable mental illness. With a combination of medications, support, therapy, and long-term management, most people who have bipolar disorder can go on to live happy, fulfilled, and functional lives.
Bipolar Disorder Statistics
Bipolar disorder affects about 5.7 million people (2.6% of the U.S. population) over the age of 18. Most individuals begin to see symptoms of bipolar disorder by the age of 25 but the disorder can begin in childhood or in an individual’s late 40’s or 50’s. Men and women equally develop bipolar disorder and it is found in equal amounts among ethnic groups, races, and social classes.
Bipolar Disorder and Co-Occurring Disorders
Bipolar disorder often occurs with other mental illnesses. The most commonly diagnosed disorders that co-occur with bipolar disorder include:
- Substance abuse
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Social phobia
- Panic disorder
Causes and Risk Factors
Causes and Risk Factors for Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder is not considered to be the result of a single identifiable factor. Rather, researchers believe that individuals who have bipolar disorder have a number of causes working together to lead to the development of the disorder. Some possible causes for bipolar disorder include:
Genetic: Up to two thirds of individuals who have bipolar disorder have at least one close relative with bipolar disorder or major depression, which indicates that bipolar disorder does have a genetic component.
Brain Chemistry: It’s been suggested that abnormalities in the structure and function of certain brain circuits may cause bipolar disorder. Individuals who are bipolar have been noted on functional MRI’s to have an increased volume of certain brain structures such as the lateral ventricles and globus pallidus.
Environmental: Certain people who are genetically predisposed toward developing bipolar disorder may develop the disorder after experiencing stressful events.
Psychological: Individuals who have bipolar disorder often go for many years without treatment. In order to combat the symptoms of this disorder, many resort to drugs or alcohol. This “self-medication” often backfires as individuals then go on to develop addictions.
Signs and Symptoms
Signs and Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
As bipolar has a highly variable presentation, the symptoms of this disorder can present differently among individuals compounding the difficulty in properly diagnosing the disorder. The symptoms of bipolar disorder are grouped together based upon the presenting mood cycle and include:
Manic (or Hypomanic) symptoms:
- Distinct period of elevated or irritable mood
- Extreme and exaggerated optimism
- Reckless and risky behavior
- Racing speech
- Racing thoughts
- Flight of ideas
- Increased self-confidence
- Aggressive behaviors
- Excessive irritability
- Less need for sleep without ensuing sleep deprivation or fatigue
- Grandiose thoughts
- Inflated sense of self-importance
- Increased impulsiveness
- Poor judgment
- Increased libido
- Decreased amount of food eaten
- High levels of distractibility
- Difficulty concentrating
- Loss of interest in previously-enjoyed activities
- Loss of interest in sex
- Sleep and appetite disturbances
- Lack of motivation
- Suicidal thoughts
Effects of Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder is such a global illness that virtually every aspect of an individual’s life is affected. As the diverse symptoms may indicate smaller, rather than larger problems an individual may go years without proper diagnosis and treatment. The long-term effects of untreated bipolar disorder may include:
- Disorganized lifestyle
- Crumbling interpersonal relationships, divorce
- Legal consequences of behaviors exhibited during manic episodes
- Job loss
- Economic struggles
- Development of medical problems related to substance abuse and addiction
- Consequences of risky behaviors