Bipolar Disorder: Extremes of Mania and Depression


Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a serious mental condition that affects millions of people. Bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme changes in mood, thought, energy, and behavior. Those with the illness appear to vacillate between the extremes of mania and depression over a period of time. The disorder can be described as a recurring and severe mental illness that affects an individual's mood, behavior and ability to think clearly. Like diabetes or heart disease, bipolar disorder is a long-term illness and must be carefully managed throughout the person's life.

The primary struggle for those with bipolar disorder is with mood regulation. This becomes more difficult because those who are experiencing the symptoms often don't recognize there is a problem. The average age of onset of bipolar disorder is about 19 years old. Most professionals agree that it is a biologically based mental illness, and the greatest factor for predicting the development of the disorder is genetics. It runs in families. The illness is thought to be caused by chemical imbalances in certain brain cells that are responsible for regulating emotions and behavior. As would be expected, bipolar disorder greatly impacts family members, friends, and even employers, as they attempt to deal with the extremes of mood and behavior along with the affected person.

The symptoms of bipolar disorder vary depending on which part of the cycle the person is experiencing. Note that these are not the normal ups and downs most people face. The extremes of bipolar disorder are severe and can be life threatening, on either end.

The depressive stage of this disorder is similar to a major depression. This likely involves extreme sadness and lethargy, an inability to concentrate, marked change in appetite, insomnia, and loss of interest in daily activities. In some cases it can include suicide attempts as well.

In the manic phase, the opposite pole of the depressive stage, the person's energy and activity levels can be off the scale. They don't sleep; they can get into spending sprees, and take on elevated beliefs about their abilities and powers. This combined with impaired judgment can lead to daredevil, and even life threatening behaviors. So the manic phase is not a "happy" one, it looks more like out of control hyperactivity with severe consequences.

It is not uncommon for those with bipolar disorder to exhibit psychotic kinds of symptoms as well. These can include delusions or hallucinations.

The bad news is that without treatment, the effects of bipolar disorder will generally worsen and can become devastating. So it is important to begin treatment as early as possible.

The treatment of bipolar disorder is usually two fold -- medications and therapy. Typically, mood stabilizers and antidepressants are the medications used to control the major symptoms.

These may include: lithium, antipsychotics, electro-convulsive therapy, and even thyroid hormone, with lithium being the most widely used mood-stabilizing medication since the 1970s.

A challenge in treating the disease is convincing the affected person that treatment is even necessary and that it is imperative they take their medication regularly. Additionally, management of the disorder is more difficult with people who are also substance abusers.

In summary, bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness that involves extreme mood swings and extreme behaviors. It is a highly disruptive and potentially life threatening illness. Although there is no cure, with proper treatment, people living with bipolar disorder can live normal lives.


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