Mental Health

What You Didn’t Know About Bipolar Disorder

There has been a lot of talk recently about celebrities revealing their own battles with bipolar disorder.  It is more common than you may think, with more than 3 million cases per year in the US alone.

The average age of onset bipolar disorder is around 25, but it can occur in children in rare cases.  This condition affects women and men equally.  With proper treatment, people can live a healthy lifestyle with this condition.


Formerly known as manic depression, bipolar disorder is a mental illness that causes extreme changes in mood, including extreme “highs” and extreme “lows.”  The high emotion (also known as mania or hypomania) are feelings of euphoric, have a lot of energy, increased activity levels, feeling jumpy or weird, being more active than usual, talk really fast about lots of different things, think a lot of things can be done at once, and making bad compulsive decisions.

There are cases where some patients experience depressive episodes as well as manic episodes, at the same time.  This is called an episode with mixed features where one may feel very sad, empty, or hopeless while extremely energized.

However even when mood swings are less extreme, bipolar disorder can still be a possibility.  Some people can experience hypomania, which is a less severe form of mania.  Individuals may feel very good, be highly productive, and function well.  Family members and friends may recognize the mood swings or changes in activity levels associated with bipolar disorder.  Without proper treatment, hypomania may develop into severe mania.



stress bipolar

Unfortunately, scientists have not been able to discover a singular cause of bipolar disorder.  At the moment, they believe that there are several factors that can contribute to this disorder.


Chances of developing bipolar disorder are increased, but not absolute, if one’s parents or sibling have the disorder.  Although, a person with a family history of bipolar disorder may never develop the disorder.

Brain Function

Researchers have not been able to diagnose bipolar disorder with brain scans yet, but they have been able to identify very subtle differences in the brain.  Changes in size of the brain or activation of some brain structures have been noted in patients with bipolar disorder.


The ability to handle a stressful event may play a role in the development of bipolar disorder.  Periods of high stress such as traumatic experiences, the death of a loved one, divorce or relationship problems, or financial problems can trigger an episode.

Types of Bipolar Disorder

According to (and cited from) the National Alliance on Mental Illness, there are four types of bipolar disorder:

    1. Bipolar I Disorder is an illness in which people have experienced one or more episodes of mania. Most people diagnosed with bipolar I will have episodes of both mania and depression, though an episode of depression is not necessary for a diagnosis. To be diagnosed with bipolar I, a person’s manic episodes must last at least seven days or be so severe that hospitalization is required.

    2. Bipolar II Disorder is a subset of bipolar disorder in which people experience depressive episodes shifting back and forth between hypomanic episodes, but never a “full” manic episode.

    3. Cyclothymic Disorder or Cyclothymia is a chronically unstable mood state in which people experience hypomania and mild depression for at least two years. People with cyclothymia may have brief periods of normal mood, but these periods last less than eight weeks.

    4. Bipolar Disorder, “other specified” and “unspecified” is when a person does not meet the criteria for bipolar I, II or cyclothymia but has still experienced periods of clinically significant abnormal mood elevation.


There are other conditions that can be experienced with bipolar disorder.  These disorders include Anxiety Disorder, Eating Disorder, ADHD, Drug or alcohol abuse, and PTSD.  People with bipolar disorder are at a greater risk for migraine headaches, heart disease, thyroid disease, diabetes, obesity, and other physical illnesses.

Please speak to a medical professional if you or someone you know show these signs.  Untreated bipolar disorder will only get worse.

For general information on mental health and to find local treatment services, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Treatment Referral Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).



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