Understanding Bipolar Disorder

2013 Bipolar Update

There are many definitions out there for bipolar disorder. I find, however, that the simplest of them is the most exemplary: “a mental disorder characterized by episodes of mania and depression”. As the name, bipolar, suggests, mania and depression are polar opposites of one another. As a matter of fact, this disorder is often referred to as manic depression. Since two totally opposite mood swings are involved it makes understanding bipolar disorder difficult at times.

Mania can be described as a mood that is unusually elevated or petulant. When a person is “manic” they may feel exceptionally happy and "high". This “high” usually last for a few hours or for days.

Depression, on the other hand, can be described as a mood that is unusually low. Coupled with this disheartened mood is an avoidance or dislike of activity, a pulling back from society, followed by confusion. Like the mania phase of this disorder, depression can last for a short period of time or it can last for weeks. The intense contrast of these two polarized moods can be very difficult to understand and cope with; it is as though there exist two distinct and different personalities. To complicate this issue even further, these “mood swings” between the two “poles” of mania and depression can occur unexpectedly. This sudden emergence of a dramatic mood swing is confusing and difficult for friends and family to respond to effectively. For this reason understanding bipolar disorder is something friends and family as well as the individual who has the disorder needs to endeavor to do.

When an individual is experiencing the manic stage of a bipolar disorder they lose the ability to keep control of their mental thoughts and emotions; they become confused by the rapid injection of what is going on around them, and they ultimately become irritated and uncontrollable, frightening their friends and family.

There are checklists, if you will, of symptoms that can possibly indicate when a person is in a manic state. The list includes, excessive happiness, increased energy, racing thoughts, high sex drive, abuse of alcohol or drugs, and restlessness, just to list a few. They also require very little sleep during this period. If a person experiences three or more of these symptoms a day for several days, there is a probability that person is having a manic episode.

Depression, the opposite end of the spectrum, is usually easier to identify and describe when it comes to understanding bipolar disorder. We have all been depressed many times in our lives, but with a depressive disorder, a person cannot just “snap out of it”; it is deeper and darker than that. Some of the symptoms of a depressive disorder include weight loss or weight gain, decreased energy, guilt feelings, feelings of hopelessness, prevailing sadness, and even thoughts of death or suicide. If any of these symptoms persist for two or more weeks, they are possibly suffering from a bipolar disorder and need to have medical attention.

Bipolar disorder or manic depression is a condition that can be effectively compared to a roller coaster ride. The person is taken to the “top” and then is suddenly plummeting to the “bottom”. At least with a rollercoaster ride, however, the person can anticipate the action. The mood swings of a person suffering from bipolar disorder are unpredictable and the person may not know when they will be hitting a “high” or a “low”. While there is not a cure for bipolar disorder, with a doctor’s care and prescribed medication a person suffering from this illness can live a stable and useful life. Almost all problems that occur with an individual with a bipolar disorder is because they stopped their medication.

Understanding bipolar disorder can be a valuable aid to anyone who may have this medical condition. Once a patient knows how to read the signs of a possible mood swing, they can take action to avoid it.