Bipolar Disorder, previously referred to as a manic-depression, is a chemical imbalance in the brain that causes shifts in a person’s mood, energy and ability to function. Bipolar illness is different than the typical ups and downs most people experience. The symptoms are severe and can impair work and school performance, relationships and cause serious consequences.
Bipolar illness is seen in about 1 percent of adults age 18 and older. The symptoms usually surface in early adulthood, but some patients have their initial symptoms during childhood. Sometimes, the symptoms are missed early in the disease.
The symptoms include dramatic mood swings from high moods and irritability to very low moods which include hopelessness. The periods of highs and lows are referred to as “episodes” of mania and depression. Symptoms of mania may include increased energy and restlessness, racing thoughts, little need for sleep, poor judgment, spending sprees, decreased need for sleep, increased sex drive, use of drugs and provocative, aggressive behaviors. A depressive episode includes feelings of hopelessness and emptiness, sadness and guilt, loss of interest in pleasurable activities , difficulty concentrating or thinking clearly, changes in appetite and sleep habits, pre-occupation with various physical problems and even thoughts of suicide. When symptoms are severe, the individual may experience hallucinations, paranoia or other psychotic symptoms.
Bipolar disorder is thought to result from a variety of causes. Although genetics seem to play a part in determining an individual’s vulnerability to the illness, most scientists agree that there is no single cause for the disorder. Many factors seem to act together to make an individual vulnerable to bipolar disorder.
With effective treatment, bipolar disorder can be treated and many individuals diagnosed with the disorder can lead full, productive lives. Most behavioral health professionals agree that a combination approach which includes psychotherapy and medication is optimal for treating the disorder. Medications may include mood stabilizers, anticonvulsant medications with mood-stabilizing properties, antipsychotics, benzodiazepines and antidepressants. In general, treatment works best if it is ongoing rather than sporadic. Charting mood symptoms, sleep patterns and stressful events may help patients and their families better understand this disorder.
Further information regarding bipolar illness may be obtained from the following sources:
Center for Mental Health Services
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Rm. 12-105 Parklawn Building
Rockville, MD 20857
National Institute of Mental Health
Office of Communications
6001 Executive Boulevard, Room 8184, MSC 9663
Bethesda, MD 20892-9663
Toll Free: 1-866-615-NIMH (6464)
American Psychiatric Association (APA)
1000 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 1825
Arlington, VA 22209-3901
American Psychological Association
750 1st Street, NE
Washington, DC 20002-4242
Toll Free: 1-800-374-2721
Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation
1187 Wilmette Ave
Wilmette, IL 60091
Depression and Related Affective Disorders Association (DRADA)
2330 West Joppa Road, Suite 100
Lutherville, MD 21093
National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD)
60 Cutter Mill Road, Suite 404
Great Neck, NY 11021
Toll Free: 800-829-8289
National Foundation for Depressive Illness, Inc. (NAFDI)
PO Box 2257
New York, NY 10116
Toll Free: 800-239-1265