Bipolar disorder, sometimes called manic-depressive illness, is a serious mental illness characterized by extreme shifts in mood and energy levels-resulting in episodes of mania to depression. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that the disorder affects an estimated 5.7 million American adults (2.6% of the population), and it affects all ages, races, ethnic groups, and social classes. The World Health Organization reports that bipolar disorder is the sixth leading cause of disability worldwide and can lead to a 9.2 year reduction in lifespan. If left untreated, bipolar disorder can cause relationship problems, job loss, and erratic behavior that may be life threatening. People with bipolar disorder alternate between periods of depression and mania, which are both characterized by vastly different behaviors.
Depressive episodes are defined by the following behaviors:
- Contemplation of suicide, death, or suicide attempts
- Prolonged feelings of apathy, sadness, or hopelessness
- Changes in eating and sleeping habits
- Memory loss
- Inability to concentrate
Manic behaviors include:
- Overly outgoing, happy, or “high” feelings
- Rapid speech, racing thoughts, and erratic thought patterns
- Extreme over-confidence
- Excess energy levels with little need for sleep
- Engagement in impulsive behaviors, especially pleasurable or high-risk behaviors
- Overall increased activity level
It is also possible to have episodes of mixed mania or hypomania. Mixed mania episodes are characterized by both manic and depressive behaviors occurring simultaneously. Hypomania episodes include all of the same behaviors of manic episodes; only the behaviors are less severe.
There are four types of Bipolar Disorder:
- Bipolar 1 Disorder. With Bipolar 1 Disorder, manic and depressive symptoms must be significantly different from a person’s normal behavior in order to classify the condition as Bipolar 1. This disorder is characterized by any of the following:
- Manic or mixed episodes lasting seven or more days
- Manic behaviors requiring immediate hospitalization
- Depressive episodes lasting at least 2 weeks
- Bipolar 2 Disorder is characterized by a pattern of depressive episodes alternating with milder periods of elation called hypomania.
- Cyclothymic Disorder is characterized by alternating periods of especially high and especially low moods that last for months or years without letting up. The behavior in these episodes is not extreme enough to be called manic or depressive.
- Rapid-Cycling Bipolar Disorder is characterized by more rapid alternations between manic and depressive episodes. Sufferers have four or more episodes of major depression, mania, hypomania, or mixed symptoms per year. Approximately three times as many women as men experience this form of the disease.