Understanding Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder (often called BD) is a type of mood disorder. In the past, this condition was called manic depression but most psychiatrists refer to it as bipolar disorder now. This disorder is a psychiatric illness that causes major disruptions in lifestyle and health.
Everyone has occasional highs and lows in their moods. But people with bipolar disorder have extreme mood swings between depression and mania. They can go from feeling very sad, despairing, helpless, worthless, and hopeless (depression) to feeling as if they are on top of the world, hyperactive, creative, and grandiose (mania). This disease is called bipolar disorder because the mood of a person with bipolar disorder can alternate between two completely opposite poles, euphoric happiness, and extreme sadness.
Even more confusing for the individual dealing with the disorder is when symptoms of both mania and depression sometimes occur together in what is called “mixed state.”
Also, the mood extremes usually occur in cycles. Between the mood swings, people with bipolar disorder are able to function normally, hold a job, and have a normal family life. However, the episodes of mood swings tend to become closer together with age. Speaking of age, most people start showing signs of bipolar disorder in their late teens (the average age of onset is 21 years). These signs may be dismissed as “growing pains” or normal teenage behavior. On occasion, some people have their first symptoms during childhood, but the condition can often be misdiagnosed at this age and improperly labeled as a behavioral problem. Bipolar disorder may not be properly diagnosed until the sufferer is 25-40 years of age, at which time the pattern of symptoms may become clearer.
When a person is in the grip of this disease, chaos can occur. Bipolar disorder can cause major disruption of family and finances, loss of job, and marital problems.
For instance, severe depression can be life-threatening. It may be associated with thoughts of suicide, actual acts of suicide, and even acts of homicide in some cases. On the other hand, extreme mania can lead to aggressive behavior, potentially dangerous risk-taking behaviors, and homicidal acts. Also, people with bipolar disorder may turn to drugs and alcohol to “self-treat” their emotional disorder, resulting in substance abuse and dependence.
Because of the extreme and risky behavior that goes with bipolar disorder, it is very important that the disorder be identified. With proper and early diagnosis, this mental condition can be treated. Bipolar disorder is a long-term illness that will require proper management for the duration of a person’s life.