A chronic mental illness or disease that causes dramatic shifts in a person’s mood, energy and ability to think clearly. People with bipolar disorder have high and low moods, known as mania and depression, which differ from the typical ups and downs most people experience. If left untreated, the symptoms usually get worse.
People living with bipolar disorder may experience several extremes in the shape of feeling the following ways:
- extreme pleasure seeking or risk taking behaviors.
People’s symptoms and the severity of their mania or depression vary widely. Although bipolar disorder can occur at any point in life, the average age of onset is 25 years old. Every year, 2.9% of the U.S. population is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, with nearly 83% of cases being classified as severe. Bipolar disorder affects men and women equally.
After accepting their diagnosis, having a strong support system, understanding their illness, learning to cope and live with their symptoms and having a strong lifestyle that includes self-management and a good treatment plan, many people with bipolar disorder live well and live a happy, productive and successful life. They should all be celebrated as beautiful, wonderful, resilient, courageous and very strong bipolar disorder survivors and mental illness survivors. Hooray for all of US everywhere!
A person with bipolar disorder may have distinct manic or depressed states. Someone who is manic might believe he is capable of anything, maybe has special powers and may display risky behavior. Someone who is depressed might feel hopeless, helpless and be unable to perform normal tasks.
A person with mixed episodes experiences both extreme moods of mania and depression simultaneously or in rapid sequence.
Severe bipolar disorder episodes of mania or depression may also include psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations or delusions. Usually, these psychotic symptoms mirror a person’s extreme mood. People with bipolar disorder who have psychotic symptoms may be wrongly diagnosed as having schizophrenia.
With mania, people may feel extremely irritable or euphoric. People living with bipolar disorder may experience several extremes in the shape of agitation, sleeplessness and talkativeness or sadness and hopelessness. They may also have extreme pleasure-seeking or risk-taking behaviors.
To be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a person must have experienced mania or hypomania.
Hypomania is a milder form of mania that doesn’t include psychotic episodes. People with hypomania can often function normally in social situations or at work. Some people with bipolar disorder will have episodes of mania or hypomania many times; others may experience them only rarely.
To determine what type of bipolar disorder people have, doctors test how impaired they are during their most severe episodes of mania or hypomania.
Although someone with bipolar may find an elevated mood appealing—especially if it occurs after depression—the “high” sometimes does not stop at a comfortable or controllable level. Moods sometimes can rapidly become more irritable, behavior more unpredictable and judgment more impaired.
During periods of mania, people frequently behave impulsively, make reckless decisions and take unusual risks. Most of the time, people in manic states are unaware of the negative consequences of their actions. It’s key to learn from prior episodes the kinds of behaviors that signal “red flags” to help manage the illness.
Depression produces a combination of physical and emotional symptoms that inhibit a person’s ability to function nearly every day for a period of at least two weeks. The level of depression can range from severe to moderate to a mild low mood, which is called dysthymia when it is chronic.
The lows of bipolar depression are often so debilitating that people may be unable to get out of bed. Typically, depressed people have difficulty falling and staying asleep, but some sleep far more than usual. When people are depressed, even minor decisions such as what to have for dinner can be overwhelming. They may become obsessed with feelings of loss, personal failure, guilt or helplessness.
This negative thinking can lead to thoughts of suicide or constant suicidal ideations. In bipolar disorder, suicide is an ever-present danger, as some people become suicidal in manic or mixed states. Depression associated with bipolar disorder may be more difficult to treat than other types o depression.
Four Basic Types of Bipolar Disorder:
- Bipolar Disorder I is an illness in which people have experienced one or more episodes of mania. Most people diagnosed with bipolar disorder I will have episodes of both mania and depression, though an episode of depression is not necessary for a diagnosis. To be diagnosed with bipolar disorder I, a person’s manic or mixed episodes must last at least seven days or be so severe that he or she requires hospitalization. Usually, depressive episodes occur as well, typically lasting at least 2 weeks. Episodes of depression with mixed features (having depression and manic symptoms at the same time) are also possible.
- Bipolar Disorder II is when people experience depressive episodes that shift back and forth with hypomanic episodes, but they never have a full blown manic episode.
- Cyclothymic Disorder or Cyclothymia, is a chronically unstable mood state in which people experience hypomania and mild depression for at least two years. People with cyclothymia may have brief periods of normal mood, but these periods last less than eight weeks.
- Bipolar Disorder “other specified” and “unspecified” is diagnosed when a person does not meet the criteria for bipolar I, II or cyclothymia but has had periods of clinically significant abnormal mood elevations. The symptoms may either not last long enough or not meet the full criteria for episodes required to diagnose bipolar disorder I or II or cyclothymia.
Scientists have not discovered a single cause of bipolar disorder.
They believe several factors may contribute:
- Genetics. The chances of developing bipolar are increased if a child’s parents or siblings have the illness. But the role of genetics is not absolute. A child from a family with a history of bipolar may never develop the illness. And studies of identical twins have found that even if one twin develops bipolar the other may not.
My story -I have an aunt that has severe Bipolar Disorder I with psychotic features and my great great Aunt was locked in an Insane Asylum (back in those days) and was never let out. My family unfortunately and very sadly called her “Crazy Aunt Lilly” and kept her a secret. I just recently found out about her. My poor dear Aunt Lilly. They were both from my mother’s side of the family. My dad has some form of bipolar disorder. My grandmother had some mental illness that was not diagnosed. My great great grandfather had some mental illness and committed suicide by jumping out of a building. My cousin committed suicide very sadly by shooting himself in the head. These relatives are all from my father’s side of the family. So, I have a large mental illness gene pool on both sides of my family. I think genetics is a contributing factor, for me anyway.
- Stress. A stressful event such as a death in the family, an illness, child birth, difficult relationships or financial problems can trigger the first bipolar episode. In some cases, substance abuse can trigger bipolar or bipolar can cause substance abuse.
- Brain structure. Brain scans cannot diagnose bipolar disorder in an individual. Yet, researchers have identified subtle differences in the average size or activation of some brain structures in people with bipolar disorder. While brain structure alone may not cause it, there are some conditions in which damaged brain tissue can predispose a person. In some cases, concussions and traumatic head injuries can increase the risk of developing bipolar disorder.
My story – I had a very severe head injury when I was about seven years old. I fell off my bike when traveling at a rapid speed and hit my head directly onto the concrete pavement requiring many stitches. I am not sure if that is related or not but you never know.
Bipolar disorder is treated and managed in several ways:
- Medications, such as mood stabilizers, antipsychotic medications and antidepressants
- Psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and family-focused therapy
- Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) –
My story – ECT’s saved my life! I have had more ECTs during my life than I can count. I will write a detailed fact filled post explaining what ECTs are and the procedure on another post very soon.
- Self-management strategies and education
- Complementary health approaches such as meditation, faith and prayer.
My story – God saved my life more times and in more ways than I can count. My test throughout my life and my testimony is a beautiful one. That is for sure! Thank you God.
We are Bipolar Disorder Survivors
In conclusion, I would like to strongly reiterate these important statements and facts again.
After accepting their diagnosis, having a strong support system, understanding their illness, learning to cope and live with their symptoms and having a strong lifestyle that includes self management and a good treatment plan, many people can live well and live a long happy, productive and successful life with bipolar disorder.
We should all be celebrated as beautiful, wonderful, resilient, courageous and very strong bipolar disorder survivors and mental illness survivors. Hooray for all of US everywhere!