BIPOLAR

What is Bipolar Disorder?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.”
There are four basic types of bipolar disorder; all of them involve clear changes in mood, energy, and activity levels. These moods range from periods of extremely “up,” elated, and energized behavior (known as manic episodes) to very sad, “down,” or hopeless periods (known as depressive episodes). Less severe manic periods are known as hypomanic episodes.

Bipolar I Disorder —

defined by manic episodes that last at least 7 days, or by manic symptoms that are so severe that the person needs immediate hospital care. Usually, depressive episodes occur as well, typically lasting at least 2 weeks. Episodes of depression with mixed features (having depression and manic symptoms at the same time) are also possible.

Bipolar II Disorder —

defined by a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes, but not the full-blown manic episodes described above.

Cyclothymic Disorder (also called cyclothymia) —

defined by numerous periods of hypomanic symptoms as well numerous periods of depressive symptoms lasting for at least 2 years (1 year in children and adolescents). However, the symptoms do not meet the diagnostic requirements for a hypomanic episode and a depressive episode.

Other Specified and Unspecified Bipolar and Related Disorders —

defined by bipolar disorder symptoms that do not match the three categories listed above.

People with bipolar disorder experience periods of unusually intense emotion, changes in sleep patterns and activity levels, and unusual behaviors. These distinct periods are called “mood episodes.” Mood episodes are drastically different from the moods and behaviors that are typical for the person. Extreme changes in energy, activity, and sleep go along with mood episodes.

The defining feature of bipolar disorder is mania. It can be the triggering episode of the disorder, followed by a depressive episode, or it can first manifest after years of depressive episodes. The switch between mania and depression can be abrupt, and moods can oscillate rapidly. Mania that is mild to moderate, called hypomania, can be deceptive: It is often experienced as a surge in energy that can feel good and enhance productivity and creativity. As a result, a person may deny that anything is wrong. There is great variability in manic symptoms, but features may include:

  • increased energy, activity, and restlessness
  • euphoric mood and extreme optimism
  • extreme irritability
  • racing thoughts, pressured speech, thoughts that jump from one idea to another
  • distractibility and lack of concentration
  • decreased need for sleep
  • unrealistic beliefs in one's abilities and powers and ideas
  • poor judgment
  • spending sprees
  • increased sexual drive
  • reckless behavior including fast driving
  • provocative, intrusive, or aggressive behavior
  • denial that anything is wrong

The duration of elevated moods and the frequency with which they alternate with depressive moods can vary enormously from person to person as well. Frequent fluctuation, known as rapid cycling, is not uncommon, and is defined as at least four episodes per year. While an episode of mania is what distinguishes bipolar disorder from unipolar depression, the depression of bipolar disorder can be the predominating feature so that a person spends far more time in the depressed state than in a manic or hypomanic one. While there is great variability in degree and duration of depressive symptoms, features generally include: Lasting sad, anxious, or empty mood

  • feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed, including sex
  • decreased energy, feelings of fatigue or of being “slowed down”
  • difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • restlessness or irritability
  • sleeping too much or inability to sleep or stay asleep
  • change in appetite and/or unintended weight loss or gain
  • chronic pain or other persistent physical symptoms not accounted for by illness or injury
  • thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts

Not infrequently, the symptoms of mania and depression can occur together in “mixed” episodes. Symptoms of a mixed state can include agitation, trouble sleeping, significant change in appetite, psychosis, and suicidal thinking. A person can feel sad in mood yet highly energized.