Bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression) is a treatable illness marked by extreme changes in mood, thought, energy and behavior. It is not a character flaw or a sign of personal weakness. Bipolar disorder is also known as manic depression because a personís mood can alternate between the "poles" mania (highs) and depression (lows). This change in mood or "mood swing" can last for hours, days weeks or months.
disorder affects more than two million adult Americans. It usually
begins in late adolescence (often appearing as depression during teen
years) although it can start in early childhood or later in life. An
equal number of men and women develop this illness (men tend to begin
with a manic episode, women with a depressive episode) and it is found
among all ages, races, ethnic groups and social classes. The illness
tends to run in families and appears to have a genetic link. Like
depression and other serious illnesses, bipolar disorder can also
negatively affect spouses and partners, family members, friends and
Symptoms of depression - the "lows" of bipolar disorder
You cannot diagnose yourself. Only a properly trained health professional can determine if you have bipolar disorder. Our online self-assessment can help you communicate your symptoms to your health care professional.
people do not seek medical attention during periods of mania because
they feel manic symptoms (increased energy, heightened mood, increased
sexual drive, etc.) have a positive impact on them. However, left
unchecked, these behaviors can have harmful results.
Bipolar I disorder is characterized by one or more manic episodes or mixed episodes (symptoms of both a mania and a depression occurring nearly every day for at least 1 week) and one or more major depressive episodes. Bipolar I disorder is the most severe form of the illness marked by extreme manic episodes.
Bipolar II disorder is characterized by one or more depressive episodes accompanied by at least one hypomanic episode. Hypomanic episodes have symptoms similar to manic episodes but are less severe, but must be clearly different from a personís non-depressed mood. For some, hypomanic episodes are not severe enough to cause notable problems in social activities or work. However, for others, they can be troublesome.
Cyclothymic disorder is characterized by chronic fluctuating moods involving periods of hypomania and depression. The periods of both depressive and hypomanic symptoms are shorter, less severe, and do not occur with regularity as experienced with bipolar II or I. However, these mood swings can impair social interactions and work. Many, but not all, people with cyclothymia develop a more severe form of bipolar illness.
There is also a form of the illness called bipolar disorder not otherwise specified (NOS) that does not fit in to one of the above definitions.
bipolar disorder is complex and can be difficult to diagnose, you
should share all of your symptoms with your health care provider. If
you feel your symptoms are not getting better with your current
treatment and your doctor does not want to try something new, do not
hesitate to see another doctor to get a second opinion. (top)
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, up to one-third of the 3.4 million children and adolescents with depression in the United States may actually be experiencing the early onset of bipolar disorder. (top)
It is also important to offer emotional support. This involves understanding, patience, affection, and encouragement. Engage the person in conversation and listen carefully. Resist the urge to function as a therapist or try to come up with answers to the personís concerns. Often times we just want someone to listen. Do not put down feelings expressed, but point out realities and offer hope. Invite the depressed person for walks, outings, to the movies, and other activities. Be gently insistent if your first invitation is refused.
It is often a good idea for the person with bipolar disorder to develop a plan should he or she experience severe manic or depressive symptoms. Such a plan might include contacting the personís doctor, taking control of credit cards and car keys or increasing contact with the person until the severe episode has passed. Your plan should be shared with a trusted family member and/or friend. Keep in mind, however, that people with bipolar disorder, like all people, have good and bad days. Being in a bad mood one day is not necessarily a sign of an upcoming severe episode.
ignore remarks about suicide. Report them to the person's therapist. Do
not promise confidentiality if you believe someone is close to suicide.
If you think immediate self-harm is possible, contact their doctor or
dial 911 immediately. Make sure the person discusses these feelings
with his or her doctor. (top)
Copyright © 2013 Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance New Jersey