Bipolar Disorder is also known as Manic Depressive Illness.
Everyone experiences moodiness. We can be happy, sad, and angry all in the same day, depending on what’s happening in our lives. These moods are a normal part of life.
Intense mood swings that aren’t related to what’s going on in our lives may be a sign of bipolar disorder. These dramatic shifts in mood can seriously affect how we think, behave and function. For us, our friends and family members, this can be very distressing.
However, bipolar disorder is a treatable medical illness. It’s not a sign of personal weakness or something that’s our fault.
“I used to say Mark was bipolar, rather than I had bipolar disorder – but that was wrong. The disorder does not define the person – how the person handles it defines the impact of the disorder.” – Nick, 41
Bipolar disorder is diagnosed when someone experiences prolonged and significant shifts in mood between mania and depression.
Genetics play an interesting role in bipolar disorder although other things such as stress, illness and hormones have also been linked to the disease. Having one parent who suffers from bipolar disorder means you have a 15% to 30% chance of developing the condition. Having a sibling with bipolar disorder means a 15-25% risk. If both parents have bipolar disorder, the risk can be as high as 75%.
There are different types of bipolar disorder and specific characteristics of the illness which can make it more or less intense. One of the keys to managing bipolar disorder is getting know yourself and how the condition plays out in you.
There are three types of bipolar disorder which relate to how far a person’s mood swings between mania and depression.
Mood swings between severe depression and severe mania.
Bipolar II- Read the fact sheet
Mood swings between severe depression and mild mania.
In this form, mood swings range between mild depression and mild mania.
Other characteristics of bipolar disorder include:
When someone experiences both depression and mania at the same time or alternating frequently throughout the day.
Rapid Cycling- Read the fact sheet
When someone experiences at least four episodes per year of mania, mild mania, mixed state or depression.
Treatment options- Read the factsheet
Bipolar disorder can be very difficult to diagnose and the symptoms can mimic other physical illnesses. For this reason, it is important to rule out all possible causes of your symptoms, such as thyroid disease, before a diagnosis of bipolar disorder is made.
The most common treatments for bipolar disorder are medication (usually a mood stabilizer) and/or psychotherapy. They can be used alone or in combination. Some issues that may determine the type of treatment used include the nature of the symptoms, the severity and duration of the illness, possible precipitating causes and previous response to treatment.
Sometimes taking antidepressants can trigger severe manic and/or rapid cycling episodes in people who have bipolar disorder, leading to destructive behaviour and an increased risk for suicide. If you are seeking treatment, it is very important to discuss this issue with your health care practitioner.
For a list of places where you can get treatment and/or find a doctor, click here.
If you aren’t sure where to begin, you can learn more about your choices and figure out which treatments might be best for you. To learn more click here.
Treatment of Bipolar Disorder: a Guide for Patients and Families, Kahn/Keck/Perlis/Otto/Ross (2004)