Insights on Health: The ABCs of Bipolar Disorder
Have you ever met someone who’s just all over the map? One moment they could be happy as a clam and the next they’re inconsolably miserable? One moment they could be charged with superhuman adrenaline and the next they have zero motivation? Before you get frustrated with confusion about all these mixed signals, bear in mind that you could be dealing with someone who has bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is a neurological ailment that is characterized by extreme swings in a person’s energy and activity levels. When a bipolar person is in a good mood, they experience pronounced emotional highs known as mania. On the other hand, when a bipolar person is in a bad mood, they experience devastating emotional lows known as depression. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, around 4 % of U.S. adults experience bipolar disorder at some point in their lives.
The Anatomy of Bipolar Disorder
Generally speaking, there are four main classifications of bipolar disorder. These are Bipolar I Disorder; Bipolar II Disorder; Cyclothymic Disorder; and Unspecified Bipolar Disorder.
- Bipolar I Disorder – A person affected by Bipolar I Disorder has had at least one manic episode in his or her life. A manic episode is a period of extremely elevated mood and high energy, accompanied by abnormal behavior which disrupts life. Most people with Bipolar I Disorder also suffer from episodes of depression. Often, there is a pattern of cycling between mania and depression. This is where the term “manic depression” comes from. In between episodes of mania and depression, many people with Bipolar I Disorder can live normal lives.
- Bipolar II Disorder – Bipolar II is similar to Bipolar I Disorder, with moods cycling between high and low over time. However, in Bipolar II Disorder, the “up” moods never reach full-blown mania. Most people with Bipolar II Disorder suffer more often from episodes of depression. In between episodes of joy and depression, many people with Bipolar II Disorder are capable of leading normal lives.
- Cyclothymia – Cyclothymic disorder is a less severe mood disorder compared to Bipolar I and II. In cyclothymic disorder, moods fluctuate between short periods of mild depression and short periods of mild mania. People with cyclothymic disorder have slighter symptoms than occur in full-blown bipolar disorder. Symptoms of cyclothymia usually begin in adolescence or young adulthood, which makes cyclothymia hard to identify.
During a bipolar mood swing, an individual can undergo extreme personality changes, which puts social and personal relationships under severe strain. The main cause of bipolar reactions is an imbalance of the chemicals involved in brain function. Genetics also plays a role since bipolar disorder runs in families, and it can develop at any age.
Diagnosis and Treatment
The only way to truly determine if someone has bipolar disorder is by consulting a licensed physician. People affected with bipolar disorder should be assessed by a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist because it takes specialized training to evaluate and properly diagnose bipolar symptoms. Medical treatment helps many victims of bipolar disorder gain better control of their mood swings and other symptoms. An effective treatment plan usually includes a combination of prescription medication and psychotherapy. Bipolar disorder tends to be a lifelong condition, so any treatment for it will likely require long-term therapy. For general information about mental health, or to find local treatment services available to you, get in touch with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) by phone or online. Mental illness doesn’t have to cripple anyone’s life, as long as we’re all willing to nurture and practice healthy living.