Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder, sometimes known as bipolar affective disorder and manic depression, is a mental illness comprised of periods of elevated mood (known as mania or hypomania, depending on the severity) and periods of depression.

During a manic episode, an individual with bipolar disorder feels and/or acts abnormally happy, energetic, upbeat, or even irritable. They often make poorly thought-out decisions with very little regard as to the possible consequences of said decisions. They may sleep much less than is normal and, due to the manic state, be able to function on such small amounts of sleep. During periods of depression, an individual may cry, have a negative outlook on life, and experience suicidal thoughts.

Mania is the defining hallmark of bipolar disorder and occurs with varying levels of severity. Milder levels of mania may include the following symptoms:

  • Lots of energy
  • More productive
  • Very excitable, talking more

In more severe cases of mania, individuals may exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Erratic or impulsive behavior
  • Poor decision-making
  • Poor impulse control
  • Being uncharacteristically promiscuous
  • Uncharacteristic shopping sprees/spending much more than they normally would
  • Unrealistic ideas about their future/delusions of grandeur
  • Thrill-seeking behavior (excessive partying, promiscuity, spending more, using drugs, when these things aren't typical of the individual)

If mania is allowed to continue into the most severe levels, the individual may begin to experience psychosis induced by the manic episode.

Many times, an individual with bipolar disorder will “drop” down into a depression after “coming down” from mania.

Symptoms of depression include:

  • Persistent feelings of sadness, guilt, or hopelessness
  • Disturbances in sleep
  • Increased or decreased appetite
  • Loss of interest in usually enjoyable activities
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Mixed State

A mixed state is when symptoms of both mania and depression are occurring at the same time. In a mixed state, one might have grandiose ideas and thoughts while at the same time experiencing guilt or feeling suicidal. Mixed states can be especially dangerous, as it can combine the lack of impulse control associated with mania, with the feelings of hopelessness and suicidal thoughts of depression.

Bipolar disorder has a high comorbidity with substance abuse, eating disorders, and self-harm. It is not at all uncommon to see these things in those with bipolar disorder.

Bipolar can be managed. If you feel that you may have some of the symptoms of bipolar disorder, do not hesitate to contact your healthcare provider to discuss it, and to talk about options for treating your symptoms.