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Bipolar Disorder / Manic Depressive Illness

Bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression) is a treatable illness marked by extreme changes in mood, thought, energy and behavior.

Research & Statistics

  • National Institute of Mental Health: Statistics

    Provides prevalence statistics for various mental disorders.

  • PubMedPubMed comprises more than 20 million citations for biomedical literature from MEDLINE, life science journals, and online books. Citations may include links to full-text content from PubMed Central and publisher web sites.

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Bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression) is a treatable illness marked by extreme changes in mood, thought, energy and behavior. Bipolar disorder is also known as manic depression because a person’s mood can alternate between the "poles" mania (highs) and depression (lows). This change in mood or "mood swing" can last for hours, days weeks or months.

Bipolar disorder usually begins in late adolescence although it can start in early childhood or later in life. Men tend to begin with a manic episode and Women with a depressive episode. The illness tends to run in families and appears to have a genetic link. Like depression and other serious illnesses, bipolar disorder can also negatively affect spouses and partners, family members, friends and coworkers.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

Most people who have bipolar disorder talk about experiencing "highs" and "lows" – the highs are periods of mania, the lows periods of depression. These swings can be severe, ranging from extreme energy to deep despair. The severity of the mood swings and the way they disrupt normal life activities distinguish bipolar mood episodes from ordinary mood changes.

Symptoms of mania - the "highs" of bipolar disorder

  • Increased physical and mental activity and energy 
  • Heightened mood, exaggerated optimism and self-confidence 
  • Excessive irritability, aggressive behavior
  • Decreased need for sleep without experiencing fatigue
  • Grandiose delusions, inflated sense of self-importance
  • Racing speech, racing thoughts, flight of ideas
  • Impulsiveness, poor judgment, distractibility
  • Reckless behavior 
  • In the most severe cases, delusions and hallucinations

Symptoms of depression - the "lows" of bipolar disorder

  • Prolonged sadness or unexplained crying spells 
  • Significant changes in appetite and sleep patterns 
  • Irritability, anger, worry, agitation, anxiety
  • Pessimism, indifference
  • Loss of energy, persistent lethargy
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness
  • Inability to concentrate, indecisiveness
  • Inability to take pleasure in former interests, social withdrawal
  • Unexplained aches and pains  

If you or someone you know has thoughts of death or suicide, contact a medical professional, clergy member, loved one, friend or hospital emergency room or call 911 immediately.

Many people do not seek medical attention during periods of mania because they feel manic symptoms have a positive impact on them. However, left unchecked, can lead to illegal or life-threatening situations because mania often involves impaired judgment and reckless behavior.

Helping a Friend

One of the most important thing family and friends can do for a person with bipolar disorder is learn about the illness. Often people who are depressed or experiencing mania or mood swings do not recognize the symptoms in themselves. If you are concerned about a friend or family member, help him or her get an appropriate diagnosis and treatment. 

Never ignore remarks about suicide. Report them to the person's therapist. Do not promise confidentiality if you believe someone is close to suicide. If you think immediate self-harm is possible, contact their doctor or dial 911 immediately. Make sure the person discusses these feelings with his or her doctor.

Source: National Institute of Mental Health