What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder, also known in some parts of the world by its older name of “manic depression,” is a mental disorder that is characterized by serious and significant mood swings. A person with this condition experiences alternating “highs” (what clinicians call “mania“) and “lows” (also known as depression).
John M. Grohol, Psy.D. is an expert in online psychology and behavior, researcher, author, and CEO & founder of the leading mental health and psychology network, Psych Central.com. Since receiving his doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University in 1995, Dr. Grohol has worked tirelessly as an online patient advocate and publisher of independent, objective mental health information designed to reduce the stigma associated with these concerns.
Editor: Nadeem Noor
Both the manic and depressive periods can be brief, from just a few hours to a few days. Or the cycles can be much longer, lasting up to several weeks or even months. The periods of mania and depression vary from person to person — many people may only experience very brief periods of these intense moods, and may not even be aware that they have the disorder.
A manic episode is characterized by extreme happiness, extreme irritability, hyperactivity, little need for sleep and/or racing thoughts, which may lead to rapid speech. People in a manic episode feel like they can do anything, make plans to try and do all those things, and believe that nothing can stop them.
A depressive episode is characterized by extreme sadness, a lack of energy or interest in things, an inability to enjoy normally pleasurable activities and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. On average, someone with this condition may have up to three years of normal mood between episodes of mania or depression.
How is Bipolar Disorder Treated?
According to researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the exact cause of bipolar disorder is not yet known — but it can still be effectively treated.
Like most mental disorders, this condition is readily treated with psychotherapy combined with psychiatric medications (most people benefit more quickly from combined treatment). Treatment for this condition is effective and helps most people keep a balanced mood throughout their day, most days of the month. One of the biggest challenges of treatment is helping a person find and keep a treatment routine that works best for them over the long-term. Most people with this condition benefit from medications for much of their life, but it can be a challenge to stick with the medications
when all seems well years down the road.