Bipolar disorder is a life-long mental illness that usually begins during a person’s late teens to mid-twenties and effects men and women equally. The direct cause of bipolar disorder is unknown but does occur more frequently in those that have relatives with the condition. It is characterized by periods of depression and mania and requires ongoing treatment to control these episodes. Bipolar disorder is categorized into different types which are determined by the length, frequency and severity of depressive and manic episodes.
Mania: diagnosed as having three or more of the symptoms listed below for most of the day everyday for a week or more. Some of these symptoms may sound harmless, or even pleasant, but they will be in the extreme. Someone experiencing mania will come across as “off” and it will be a marked change from their normal personality. Mania is a serious condition which can cause a patient to become psychotic, destroy their personal or professional lives, or may lead to death from reckless behavior.
- Heightened mood, intense optimism, overly happy, increased self-confidence
- Increased mental and physical energy
- Decreased sleep without fatigue
- Irritability and increased aggression
- Fast speech, racing thoughts, jumping from idea to idea
- Easily distracted
- Impulsiveness or reckless behavior
- Delusions of grandeur, inflated sense of self-importance
- Feeling invincible or unrealistic belief in abilities
- Indulging in promiscuous sex, spending sprees, gambling or other high-risk behaviors
Hypomania: same as mania, only in a milder form. Hypomania does not interfere with a person’s ability to function and is less easily distinguishable from a really good mood. Hypomania at times may feel pleasant to the person experiencing it and may even make them more enjoyable to the people around them, however, it can lead to reckless or harmful behavior (like overspending) and may develop into full-blown mania of not treated properly.
Depression: Depression is a treatable condition that can affect anyone of any age. Depression involves an imbalance of neurotransmitters and neuropeptides, brain chemicals. People tend to be pre-disposed to depression if it runs in their family, but there is not always a direct connection. Having five or more of the following symptoms for more than two weeks is an indication of depression.
- Persistent sad, anxious or empty mood
- Unexplained crying spells
- Unintentional weight gain or loss
- Indifference, social withdrawal, pessimism
- Restlessness, irritability, anger or worry
- Feeling fatigued, lethargic or weak
- Lack of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed, including sex
- Feeling guilty, hopeless or worthless
- Difficulty concentrating, making decisions or remembering things
- Unexplained aches and pains that don’t respond to treatment
- Thoughts of suicide or death
Major Depression: same as depression but the symptoms are severe enough to interfere with normal functioning; also referred to as “clinical depression.”
Types of Bipolar Disorder
The most severe type of bipolar disorder, type I is characterized by a manic episode so severe that it requires medical attention or by a mixed (mania and depression) episode that lasts seven days. Typically, depressive episodes last two weeks. Manic episodes in bipolar type I are particularly extreme.
Less severe than type I, type II bipolar disorder is marked by episodes of hypomania and depression. Patients with type II will not experience full-blown mania or mixed episodes. Between episodes, moods may be level and normal. Bipolar II may be misdiagnosed as depression, if the episodes of hypomania are not acknowledged.
Patients with cyclothymia will experience episodes of hypomania and mild depression for at least two years. Since the mood swings are less severe than other types of bipolar disorder, cyclothymia may be overlooked or misdiagnosed as depression.
Rapid cycling bipolar disorder is just what the name implies: symptoms that occur frequently and sometimes for a very short period of time. This diagnosis is applied to someone who has experienced four or more episodes of mania, hypomania or major depression within a twelve month timeline. It is possible for those suffering from rapid cycling bipolar disorder to experience more than one episode within one week, or sometimes even within one day.
This disorder effects more women than men and appears most frequently in cases where the patient experienced their first episode at a young age, typically four years earlier than those with non-rapid cycling bipolar diagnoses. This disorder is generally a late development and has the greatest risk of suicide or severe depression.
Not Otherwise Specified (NOS):
Someone exhibiting symptoms of bipolar disorder that do not follow an expected pattern, length of time or frequency fall under the category of bipolar disorder not otherwise specified. An example of this is someone who experiences multiple episodes of hypomania without a depressive episode in between.
Though some bipolar disorder types are mild and do not seem to do harm, all types must be treated as soon as possible and be taken seriously. Bipolar disorder can progress into more severe types if not treated properly, and the treatment is typically ongoing and lifelong. Even cyclothymia can greatly affect a person’s quality of life. Oftentimes, those with bipolar disorder who are undiagnosed spend their lives feeling angry, confused and different from everyone else. Diagnosis and treatment can give them back control, confidence and normalcy.
The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) is a great resource for depression and bipolar disorder. They have information about mood disorders, advice for those close to someone suffering from a mood disorder, and resources for finding help.