Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is a mental illness that causes extreme mood swings between emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression). The word bipolar itself means two extremes. Hence, it is a mental health condition characterized by extreme shifts in moods and mental states. Depression causes feelings of sadness or hopelessness, and you lose interest or pleasure in most life activities. When your mood shifts to mania or hypomania, you may feel euphoric, full of energy or unusually irritable. These mood swings can affect sleep, energy, activity, judgment, behavior and the ability to think clearly. People with bipolar disorder may have trouble managing everyday life tasks at school or work, or maintaining healthy relationships. There is no known cure, but there are many treatment options available that can help to manage the symptoms.
The exact cause of bipolar disorder is unknown, but several factors may be involved. For example, researchers believe that certain people with bipolar disorder have biological differences that cause chemical imbalances in the brain. There is also the factor of genetics, as bipolar disorder is more common in people who have a first-degree relative, such as a sibling or parent, with the condition.
- Bipolar I disorder: This involves manic episodes lasting 7 days or more, or severe mania that requires hospitalization. The person may also experience a major depressive episode that lasts 2 weeks or more. Thus, this type is characterized by extreme and severe highs and lows.
- Bipolar II disorder: This features both mania and depression, but the mania is less severe than in bipolar I, and doctors call it hypomania. A person with bipolar II may experience a major depressive episode preceding or following a manic episode. Hence, here there are briefer, less extreme periods of elation with longer periods of depression.
- Cyclothymic disorder: Also known as cyclothymia, this type includes symptoms of hypomania and depression that last for 2 years or more in adults or 1 year in children. These symptoms do not fit the criteria for wholly manic or depressive episodes.
- Other types: People with these disorders experience symptoms that do not fall into the above categories. The symptoms may stem from drug or alcohol use or medical conditions, for example.
The three main symptoms of this illness are those mentioned earlier; mania, hypomania, and depression. These symptoms also vary depending on the type of bipolar disorder. The most serious type is Bipolar I, where a person experiences both mania and depression very deeply.
Mania is an emotional high that makes people feel excited, impulsive and euphoric. But these exceed ordinary feelings of joy, causing racing thoughts, rapid speech, sleeplessness, hypersexual feelings, and risky actions. Hypomania is generally associated with bipolar II disorder. It is similar to mania, but not as severe.
Depression causes things like low mood, dwindling interest in hobbies, changes in appetite, feeling worthless, sleeping too less/too little, and suicidal thoughts. Basically, life loses all colour for a person experiencing depression, and it is very hard for them to enjoy anything or feel any positive emotions.
Though it cannot be cured, bipolar disorder can be controlled with treatment. Medication is the cornerstone of bipolar disorder treatment, and psychotherapy can help many patients learn about their illness and how to cope with it, preventing future mood episodes. Treatment aims to stabilize the person’s mood and reduce the severity of symptoms. The goal is to help the person function effectively in daily life.
Medications known as ‘mood stabilizers’, such as lithium, are the most commonly prescribed type of medications for bipolar disorder. These medications are believed to correct imbalances in brain signaling. Because bipolar disorder is a chronic illness in which mood episodes typically recur, ongoing preventive treatment is recommended. Bipolar disorder treatment is individualized, as individuals react differently and symptoms vary widely. It is important to get a correct diagnosis and find a suitable treatment as per the individual.
People suffering from bipolar disorder have their life split in two realities; elation and depression. For someone constantly bouncing between emotional states, it can be hard to find the balance which will help lead a healthy life. Hence, we should also support the people in our lives suffering from bipolar disorder and help them cope with such extreme and debilitating emotions.