What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder (or bipolar disease) is a mental illness which is known as a mood disorder, where a person’s mood can swing between the two “poles” of mania and depression. The condition was previously known as manic depression.

Bipolar disease is very much a medically recognized mental illness and although not curable, the condition is treatable. The main characteristics of bipolar disease are extreme changes in behaviour, thought, energy and mood.

Bipolar Disorder facts

Although some studies show the average bipolar onset age is 21, new studies on bipolar disorder now suggests many first experience the illness in their teens. Equal numbers of women and men develop bipolar disorder and bipolar is found amongst all social classes, ages, races and ethnic groups. Bipolar disorder is now believed to be genetic.

Like other serious mental illnesses, bipolar negatively impacts loved ones and anyone close to the sufferer of bipolar disorder.

Types of bipolar disorder

  • Bipolar I can be recognised by one or more major depressive episodes plus one or more manic or mixed episodes. Bipolar I disorder is the severest type of bipolar and is especially recognised by extreme episodes of mania.
  • Bipolar II disorder can be recognised by one or more depressive episodes along with one or more hypomanic episode. Hypomania is a less severe form of mania.
  • Cyclothymic disorder is recognised by fluctuating moods of hypomania and depression; however, the depression does not rise to a major depressive episode.
  • Bipolar Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (bipolar NOS) is recognised and diagnosed when the particular bipolar disorder does not fit with any other types of bipolar disease.
  • Rapid Cycling is when the patient cycles four or more times a year.
  • Ultra Rapid Cycling is when the patient cycles weekly or daily.
  • Ultradian Bipolar is diagnosed when the patient cycles within a few hours.

Bipolar Disorder symptoms & diagnosis

Diagnosis of bipolar disorder can be difficult due to the overlaps with other mental illnesses and mood disorders. Bipolar 2 is especially difficult to diagnose as the patient is more often in the depressed state and so is treated for depression and not bipolar disorder.

Proper knowledge of the symptoms of the various symptoms can help to empower the patient to seek a correct diagnosis. Symptoms for bipolar disorder can be divided into the two groups of mania and depression.

Symptoms of mania:

  • Increased mental and physical energy and activity
  • Self-confidence, heightened mood and exaggerated optimism
  • Feeling of invincibility
  • Excessive irritability
  • Much less need for sleep and not feeling tired
  • Grandiose delusions, and over inflated self-importance
  • Racing thoughts and speech
  • Signs of impulsiveness, easily distracted
  • Risky or reckless behaviour, especially with spending, driving and sexual behaviour
  • Hallucinations and delusions

Symptoms of depression:

  • Long periods of crying or sadness which are unexplained
  • Feeling hopeless, helpless, and worthless
  • Notable changes in sleep patterns and appetite
  • Irritability, agitation, anger, anxiety, worry
  • Pessimism and indifference
  • Lack of energy, lethargy
  • Unable to concentrate
  • Unable to enjoy usual interests
  • Aches and pains which are otherwise unexplained
  • Suicidal thoughts

Treatment and management

Treatment and management of bipolar can be quite involved and the information available can become overwhelming. It has been shown though that those who have a factual understanding of their illness and the surrounding issues have fewer bipolar episodes overall, so obtaining educational bipolar self-help is crucial. Bipolar disorder help should also come from informed sources and from bipolar help and support groups.

Medications can vary depending on which phase of bipolar disorder the patient is going through, as well as whether the patient needs long term or short term treatment. Selection of appropriate medication is also based on severity of symptoms. Common medications used in the treatment of bipolar disorder include antipsychotics, Lithium, mood stabilisers and Benzodiazepines. Antidepressants are often also prescribed, but only with additional mood stabilising medication.

Further Help

If you would like further information on bipolar disorder then please contact the following:

Bipolar UK
Support for people with bipolar disorder (including hypomania) and their families and friends.

Telephone: 020 7931 6480
website: www.bipolaruk.org.uk