Bipolar Disorder

What is it?

Bipolar disorder, previously called manic depressive disorder, is a brain disorder that causes extreme shifts in a person’s mood, energy and ability to function. People with bipolar disorder can experience periods of depression, periods of mania, and long periods of normal mood in between. The time between these different episodes varies greatly from person to person.

The median age of onset is 25 years, which means that half the people with bipolar disorder will have had their first episode by this age. Bipolar disorder is equally common in males and females. 

Signs and Symptoms: 

Signs and symptoms of mania (or a manic episode) include:

  • Increased energy, activity and restlessness
  • Excessively “high,” overly good, euphoric mood
  • Extreme irritability
  • Racing thoughts and talking very fast, jumping from one idea to another
  • Distractibility, can’t concentrate well
  • Little sleep needed
  • Unrealistic beliefs in one’s abilities and powers
  • Poor judgement
  • Spending sprees
  • A lasting period of behavior that is different from usual
  • Increased sexual drive
  • Abuse of drugs, particularly cocaine, alcohol and sleeping medications
  • Provocative, intrusive or aggressive behavior
  • Denial that anything is wrong

 

Signs and symptoms of depression (or a depressive episode) include:

  • Lasting sad, anxious or empty mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed, including sex
  • Decreased energy, a feeling of fatigue or of being “slowed down”
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Sleeping too much, or can’t sleep
  • Change in appetite and/or unintended weight loss or gain
  • Chronic pain or other persistent bodily symptoms that are not caused by physical illness or injury
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
Support Strategies: 
  • Assess for risk of suicide or harm
  • Listen nonjudgmentally
  • Give reassurance and information
  • Encourage appropriate professional help
  • Encourage self-help and other support strategies
Resources: 
  • Brain & Behavior Research Foundation
  • Mental Health America
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness
  • National Council for Behavioral Health
  • National Institute of Mental Health
  • Pendulum
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