• Gianna Sullivan

Bipolar Disorder - What Is It?

The word Bipolar spelled out in wooden blocks

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition which causes extreme mood changes. People with this disorder may swing from mania to depression. For this reason, the condition used to be known as manic depression. It can have a very severe effect on how a person thinks, feels, and behaves, changing their energy levels and affecting their ability to focus and function. Although there are different types of bipolar disorder, they each have similar symptoms involving periods of low mood and low energy (depression) and periods of elated mood and high energy mood (manic episodes). While this is considered a lifelong condition, it can be treated and managed so that symptoms are kept under control, and the person can live a full and fulfilling life.

Manic and Depression Episodes

Bipolar disorder includes manic and depression episodes

A manic episode may be characterized by certain symptoms, including feelings of happiness and elation and feeling full of energy. This can result in signs such as talking quickly or moving quickly. During a manic episode, a person may not feel like eating or sleeping and may feel like they are full of thoughts and plans and ideas that are exciting and distracting. They may find themselves easily distracted by new things, or that they easily become irritated or annoyed by things. They may have problems with controlling their impulses, spending money on unnecessary things, making decisions on a whim without thinking through possible consequences, or taking part in high-risk behavior that could potentially put them in danger. Some people experience hallucinations during a manic phase or experience irrational thought processes and delusions.

A depression episode is characterized by low mood, feelings of sadness, and low energy. The person may feel hopeless or like life is not worth living, and this can lead to darker thoughts of self-harm or suicide. A depressive episode can have severe impacts on the person’s cognitive ability so that they find it difficult to think clearly or to concentrate or remember things. They may lose interest in things they once enjoyed, such as hobbies, relationships, school, or work. Confidence is likely to be low, and feelings of guilt, low self-worth, and doubt are common. The depressive stage does have some things in common with the manic episode; the person may find their sleep and appetite is disturbed, and they may also suffer from hallucinations and irrational thought processes.

Bipolar Disorder Affects Different People in Different Ways

Cyclothymia and destruction of health and life

Each person is different. Not everyone will experience all of the symptoms of manic or depressive episodes. An individual suffering from the disorder might have more of one type of episode than the other, and this can also change as time goes on. There may be quite long periods between episodes when they are not experiencing either mania or depression and feel able to manage their mood very well. When a person moves between the different phases very quickly and does not have much time in between, we call this rapid cycling. Sometimes people feel that some of the symptoms of mania and some of the symptoms of depression occur at the same time. This is called being in a mixed state or a mixed features episode. There is also a type of bipolar disorder called cyclothymia which is milder and is characterized by mood swings that persist for longer but have less extreme symptoms.

Who Gets This Disorder and Why?

The disorder can affect people from all backgrounds, and it appears to affect men and women fairly equally. It is most likely to be diagnosed during the late teens or early twenties, but it can occur earlier or later. This disorder is most likely to occur in those who have a close relative with the condition. There are several possible causes, including genetics, chemical imbalance, past trauma, life-changing events, and serious sleep disturbances.

How Is It Diagnosed?

A doctor, mental health care provider, or psychiatrist will be trained to recognize the signs of this condition. They will ask questions to help them understand how the person is feeling and how this is affecting their lives and behaviors. They will also look at the family history and potentially any past experiences that might support the diagnosis. The process of diagnosis is designed to support the person who is suffering and help to find a treatment or management plan that will allow them to lead a happier, more fulfilled life.


Talk therapy word cloud on a white background

Bipolar disorder will be treated according to a very personalized plan that is developed by the experts leading the person’s care. There will usually be multiple treatment options, and it may take time to find the right approach for the individual. There are some medications available which can help to control the symptoms of depression and mania. Talking therapy is also an extremely powerful tool in helping to ease the symptoms and also to develop strategies for the person to recognize signs and identify triggers so that they can manage their condition more effectively and reach out for help when it is needed. Lifestyle changes can also be very useful; studies have shown that regular exercise helps, as does good sleep patterns and a healthy balanced diet.

Can Someone with Bipolar Disorder be Happy?

Yes. Seeking help and advice from trained professionals who understand the condition is crucial to finding happiness and fulfillment. Many people have moved from serious suffering with bipolar to finding contentment through the management and being aware of needing help and reaching out for support when it is needed. To do this, the individual should be an integral part of designing the treatment plan and understanding how it works. There are also many sources of support in the form of charities and support groups. Talking to other people who understand the condition can really help someone with the disorder see there is support available, and they are most certainly not alone. Creative endeavors can also be an excellent outlet for those suffering; writing, music, or art can be a powerful form of self-expression and therapy.