What is bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder is like a rollercoaster ride. People who suffer from this brain disorder experience ups and downs. These “ups and downs” refer to the extremes of the mood spectrum. Deep depressions can be experienced and the most exhilarating euphoria can make a person feel invincible. Bipolar disorder is basically about mood swings that can range from depression to mild or extreme mania.
Depression is often experienced for longer periods than mania. This is commonly the reason why people seek help. The depression experienced in bipolar disorder is distinctive from that experienced in unipolar disorder. With bipolar disorder the depression is very physical and deep. Lethargy is also a key feature.
The symptoms of depression (DSM) include:
- Low mood, sadness, tearfulness
- Loss of interest in activities
- Tiredness or loss of energy
- Weight fluctuations – gaining or losing a significant amount of weight without trying
- Insomnia or wakefulness
- Difficulty making decisions and concentrating
- Feelings of guilt and worthlessness
- Being pre-occupied with suicidal thoughts
Mania is the key factor that discerns bipolar disorder from other mental conditions. In a manic state a person may have loads of energy. The person may also experience psychosis. During a manic episode the person is likely to not have any insight into their actions.
The symptoms of mania (DSM) include:
- Elevated mood – Euphoria
- Inflated ideas about abilities and self-worth
- Little need for sleep with no decline in energy levels
- Talking faster or more than usual
- Easily distracted
- Inability to slow thoughts and speech down
- Hyperactivity or inability to stay still
- Self-destructive or reckless behavior like alcohol and drug abuse, indiscriminate sex or even wild shopping sprees.
- Psychosis – Delusions, Hallucinations, disorganized behavior, disorganized speech
Hypomania is a less severe version of mania. It is more difficult to diagnose. Hypomanic symptoms are similar to the symptoms of mania, but last for shorter periods and do not interfere as much with daily life.
Mixed states are experienced when the symptoms of depression and mania both occur at the same time. This is a combination for disaster. The likelihood of suicidality is increased with mixed states.
The effects of this disorder can take a detrimental toll on a person’s life. Many treatments exist for people with bipolar disorder. It is very important that anyone who is suspected to have this condition be taken for psychiatric evaluation.
People with bipolar disorder ride the rollercoaster of mood swings. The important thing is that they realize that Bipolar disorder can be tamed to make the ride more enjoyable and stable.
- Oliwenstein L. Taming Bipolar disorder. New York: Penguin Group; 2004.
- Anderson IM, Hadda PM, Scott J. Bipolar disorder. BMJ. 2012. 345; e8508.
- Akiskal HS. Mood disorders: Clinical fatures. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkens; 2005.
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