Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder (also known as bipolar affective disorder, manic-depressive disorder, or manic depression) is a psychiatric diagnosis for a mood disorder. Individuals with bipolar disorder experience episodes of a frenzied state known as mania, typically alternating with episodes of depression.


In the U.S. 3% of the population suffers from Bipolar disorder and 2 million people are trying to cope with this disease. In fact it is the 6th most common illness, causing disability. The rate of unemployment, work absenteeism, lower academic performance, divorce and hospitalization is high in people suffering from this disease. Moreover, the patients with this disease showed a high rate of smoking, alcohol and drug abuse.

Every day we face many ups and downs in our lives, but for people having this disease these “peaks and valleys” can be more intense. Bipolar disease can disrupt our daily lives; it can have negative impact on our job performance and can even destroy our relationships. The problem with bipolar is that most of the time it is left undiagnosed and since no treatment is taken, the situation gets worst. It is important to recognize the problem in the first place so that measures could be taken to solve this problem.

Understanding Bipolar Disorder

What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder or manic depression is responsible for causing changes in the behavior, mood, thinking and energy of the individual suffering from the disease. Bipolar disorder is more than a mood swing, there is a serious shift in the way people behave- from the high state of mania to the low state of depression. The condition prevails for days, weeks or even months. Sometimes the mood shifts are so intense that patient loses the ability to function in a normal life.

A patient might quit his job impulsively, during an ongoing manic episode, he spends money lavishly or feel energetic after sleeping for just 2 hours. The same person while going through a depressive episode might feel too weak to get out of the bed, he may hate himself for quitting his job and spending too much.

What causes bipolar disorder is still unknown. However, it is a genetically inherited disease and the first episode takes place in the teenage or early 20s.

What are the symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?
The symptoms of bipolar disease vary widely in the pattern, intensity and frequency. Some patients are more likely to suffer from manic episodes while the others may suffer from depressive episodes more frequently, and some patients suffer from equal span of manic and depressive episodes. For some the mood disruptions are more frequent, while for others this situation takes place only a few times during their entire life.

There are 4 types of “Mood episodes” that is mania, hypomania, depression and mixed episodes. Every episode has its own unique symptoms.

Manic Phase
The patient feels high levels of energy, he feels euphoric and creative, he sleeps less, talks more and gets very hyperactive. Feeling of being great, powerful and invincible are common among such people. The problem with manic episode is that it makes the situation get out of control and people undergoing this phase often get involved in gambling, sexual activities, fights and alcohol abuse. In worst cases the patient might become delusional and even hear voices.

Here are the symptoms of mania:

  • Feeling unusually optimistic or extremely irritable
  • Unrealistic beliefs about one’s powers and abilities
  • Sleeping less, but at the same time feeling energetic
  • Talking rapidly
  • Racing thoughts
  • Lack of concentration
  • Impulsiveness and impaired judgment
  • Acting recklessly
  • In severe cases feeling delusional and seeing hallucinations

Hypomania is slightly better than manic episode. The person going through this episode feels energetic, euphoric and productive, while being realistic at the same time. The bad part of hypomania is that it can harm relations, reputation and career. Hypomania sometimes also results in manic phase or major depressive phase.

Bipolar Depression
In the past, regular depression was often confused with bipolar depression. But recent studies have found significant differences between the two types of depression and also the way they should be treated. Bipolar cannot be treated with antidepressants in most of the cases as it worsens the condition.

The patient suffering from bipolar depression may have a feeling of guilt, irritability, restlessness and may also experience mood swings. Here are the common symptoms of bipolar depression:

  • Feeling sad, hopeless, or empty
  • Irritability
  • Feeling lack of energy or fatigue
  • Mental and physical sluggishness
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Sleeping disorders
  • Lack of concentration
  • Memory problems
  • Feeling guilty or worthless
  • Thoughts of suicide or death

Mixed Episodes
During mixed episodes the patient experiences the symptoms all the other three episodes. The patient may suffer from depression, feel agitated or irritated. Other symptoms include anxiety, racing thoughts, insomnia and lack of concentration. The risk of suicidal attempt is very high in mixed episodes.

What are the causes of bipolar disorders?
There isn’t a single cause of bipolar disorder; it is associated with inheritance, abnormal thyroid function, high levels of cortisol or stress hormones, neurotransmitter imbalances and circadian rhythm disturbance. There are some external factors also responsible for causing bipolar disorder, these factors are also called triggers. The major triggers of bipolar disease are stress, drug and alcohol abuse, some medications such as anti-depressants and appetite suppressants and lack of sleep. Even seasonal changes can trigger bipolar disorder.

What is the treatment for bipolar disorder?
People suffering from bipolar disorder can live a normal life if they get timely treatment. However, the treatment for bipolar disorder is long-term and it requires monitoring even after the patient starts feeling better. Most of the patients require medications for preventing new episodes. To treat the disease effectively medication along with therapy, social support and lifestyle changes are required. It is also important to consult the most experienced psychiatrist.

“Many people with bipolar disorder have successful careers, happy family lives, and satisfying relationships. Living with bipolar disorder is challenging. But with treatment, healthy coping skills, and a solid support system, you can live fully while managing your symptoms.”