What is bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder (also known by its older name, manic depression) is a serious brain illness that is characterized by extreme changes in moods, thinking, and behavior between two poles—depression and mania. It is an illness, not a type of personality or a lack of character or self-control.
“Mania” is a mood extreme marked by agitation, restlessness, euphoria, and recklessness. During a manic phase a person might sleep only a few hours a night, go on a spending spree, engage in risky sex, or impulsively quit a job and start new projects.
During the depression phase, the same person might feel unable to get out of bed and overwhelmingly sad. Problems brought on from the impulsive behavior during a manic phase—like losing a job or being in debt—may contribute to feelings of self-doubt and hopelessness.
Because the poles are so extreme, bipolar disorder is extremely disruptive to a person’s life and the lives of those around them. The highs and lows of bipolar disorder can affect a person’s perception of reality and interfere with the ability to reason and make good decisions.
Most people with bipolar disorder cycle between the poles of depression and mania slowly—there may be periods of normal mood in between the poles of depression and mania. Some people have rapid cycling bipolar disorder, which means they have four or more distinct episodes of highs and lows over the course of a year. People with bipolar disorder may also experience a “mixed state” with the lows of depression and agitation of a manic phase.
Bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition that can be managed with medication, education, therapy, support, and healthy habits.
Sources: National Institute of Mental Health; Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance