Bipolar Disorder

Paper cutouts of a person with varying moods indicating Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder is characterized by big changes in mood, energy and ability to think clearly. These moods can bring highs and lows, known as mania and depression.

The average age of Bipolar Disorder onset is 25. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), just under 3% of the United States population is diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder every year, and most cases are severe. If untreated, symptoms often get worse. However, with treatment and self-coping mechanisms, people can manage and live well with Bipolar Disorder.

What does Bipolar Disorder look like?

The two main symptoms of Bipolar Disorder are mania and depression.

Mania is a period of elevated, extreme changes in mood, energy or activity level. Symptoms can include feeling invincible, feeling like you don’t need to sleep, racing thoughts, talking quickly or having impaired judgement. During a period of mania, a person may act impulsively and won’t consider the outcome of their actions.

Depression is characterized by a period of a physical and emotional “low” that lasts 2 weeks or more. These symptoms hinder a person’s ability to function in everyday life.

Bipolar Disorder can also include periods of psychosis during depressive or manic episodes, which includes symptoms like hallucinations or delusions. Mania without symptoms of psychosis is known as hypomania.

There are 4 types of Bipolar Disorder:

  • Bipolar I Disorder is classified by a person having one or more episodes of mania so severe it requires hospitalization. Episodes of depression are not necessary for a Bipolar I diagnosis, but often occur.
  • Bipolar II Disorder is classified by a person experiencing shifting periods of depression and hypomania, but never a full manic episode.
  • Cyclothymic Disorder or Cyclothymia is classified as a person having a chronic unstable mood with periods of depression and hypomania. To be considered chronic, symptoms must persist for at least 2 years and periods of normal mood usually last shorter than 8 weeks.
  • Bipolar Disorder (other specified and unspecified) is classified by a person having periods of significant, abnormal changes in mood, but they do not meet the requirements for Bipolar I, II or Cyclothymia.

What causes Bipolar Disorder?

Some events or behaviors put you at a higher risk for Bipolar Disorder:

  • Stress. Highly stressful events can trigger the first bipolar episode.
  • Genetics. Mood disorders like Bipolar Disorder can run in families.
  • Brain structure. Differences, early brain injuries or changes in certain chemicals in your brain can cause symptoms of Bipolar Disorder.
  • Drug and alcohol misuse. Substance misuse can trigger the first bipolar episode in some cases.

How do I know if I have Bipolar Disorder?

If you have noticed symptoms of Bipolar Disorder in your everyday life, reach out to your doctor. They can determine your diagnosis and help you get connected to treatment options.

Bipolar Disorder is chronic, so treatment is necessary for management of symptoms. If left untreated, symptoms often get worse. Types of treatment for Bipolar Disorder may include:

  • Medication
  • Psychotherapy
  • Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)
  • Self-care strategies