What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar Disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. The disorder affects around 60 million people worldwide, and is more common in women than men. According to the International Bipolar Foundation, 2.6% of Americans—more than one in every 40 people—deal with bipolar disorder in a given year.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder are more extreme than the usual ups-and-downs that any person may go through on a daily basis. Bipolar Disorder typically consists of both manic and depressive episodes separated by periods of normal mood. Manic episodes involve elevated or irritable mood, over-activity, pressure of speech, inflated self-esteem and a decreased need for sleep. People who have manic attacks but do not experience depressive episodes are also classified as having bipolar disorder.

Bipolar Disorder mood changes are called episodes, and people usually shift from manic to depressive episodes.

People with Bipolar Disorder tend to experience:

  • Excessively “high”, euphoric mood
  • Extreme irritability
  • Unrealistic beliefs in one’s abilities and powers, such as feeling able to control world events
  • Decreased need for sleep without feeling tired
  • Racing thoughts or fast speech
  • Distractibility or difficulty concentrating
  • Agitation
  • Spending sprees
  • Increasing sadness or feeling very “down”
  • Worried or empty feelings
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • A tendency to forget things a lot
  • A lost interest in fun activities and a tendency to be less active
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Thoughts about of death or suicide

Bipolar Disorder symptoms can result in damaged relationships, poor job or school performance, and even suicide. According to the World Health Organization, about 10% to 15% of people with bipolar disorder will die from suicide, and about 60% of those suffering from the disorder will develop drug and alcohol abuse problems. But Bipolar Disorder can be treated. A combination of professional counseling and medication helps most people live productive and fulfilling lives.

Bipolar Disorder symptoms are sometimes not recognized as parts of a larger problem, so it can be years before a person is properly diagnosed and treated. This mental illness can develop at any time in a person’s life, though it most commonly emerges in late adolescence or early adulthood. It has been reported that at least half of all cases start before age 25. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, early-onset Bipolar Disorder affects potentially up to one million teenagers from the ages of 14 to 18. Genetics, brain structure and stress are all believed to play a role in the development of bipolar disorder. Bipolar Disorder is a long-term illness that must be carefully managed throughout the entirety of a person’s life.