Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression, is a mood disorder characterized by periods of “highs” and “lows.” The “high” is known as mania and involves an abnormally irritated or elevated mood, increased energy and activity levels, quickened thoughts, and/or risky behavior. The “low” is known as depression and involves decreased energy and activity levels, thoughts of hopelessness or worthlessness, difficulty remembering or concentrating, and/or thoughts of death or suicide. These episodes can vary in length and severity and occasionally people can experience an episode with mixed features, meaning the experience of elements of both “high” and “low” at the same time. Individuals with bipolar disorder may experience psychosis in manic, depressive and mixed episodes. A person may be diagnosed with either bipolar I or bipolar II disorder. Bipolar I requires at least one manic episode, while bipolar II requires at least one hypomanic episode and one major depressive episode. Bipolar disorder generally develops during late adolescence or early adulthood, and it is estimated about 2.6% of the population in the US over the age of 18 has the disorder.
Because bipolar disorder is often misdiagnosed, a diagnosis of bipolar disorder should be obtained by talking with a doctor that specializes in mood disorders, who may do a physical or mental health evaluation to rule out other causes. Though there is no definitive cure for bipolar disorder, it can be treated and managed with any combination of medication, psychotherapy/counseling, education and support. When treated, individuals with bipolar disorder can lead productive, fulfilling lives. Many people find that keeping track of the signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder can help them understand the illness and allow them to prepare themselves and make a plan for future episodes.
There are various foundations and organizations that exist to assist people who have bipolar disorder and provide resources for treatment centers and crisis phone lines. Research on bipolar disorder is ongoing and there are clinical trials available across the United States to conduct further studies.