Bipolar Disorder, once known as Manic-Depression, is a serious mental illness that effects millions of people, yet the average person knows so little about it. Bipolar disorder is the sixth leading cause of disability in America (www.mentalhealth.com). Alcohol and drug abuse are very common in patients with bipolar, as is suicide, if left untreated. This disorder typically develops by around age 21, although many patients go untreated for years (www.mentalhealth.com). Bipolar disorder is a complex disorder that requires careful medication management, psychotherapy, and other care.
Bipolar disorder is broken into the two types: Bipolar I and Bipolar II. Bipolar I is the most common and well-known of the two forms. You hear about “wild manic episodes” that are blamed for shopping sprees and sometimes even criminal behavior. But what does this mean?
Bipolar I disorder is characterized by alternating manic and depressive episodes. During these manic episodes, a person exhibits increased activity, a “flight of ideas,” is often more talkative then normal, has excessive involvement in pleasurable activities that may have negative consequences (shopping or sex sprees, foolish business investments, etc.), and may be extremely irritable (Barlow & Durand, 2005). This state will be one of severe disturbance. Occasionally, hallucinations or delusions may be present. The person is not able to function properly. In severe cases, hospitalization is required. This is followed by a drop into depression. This is a major depression, often leaving the person unable to get out of bed.
Bipolar II has slightly different characteristics. People with bipolar II do not have a full-on manic episode. Patients will sometimes experience what is known as a “hypo-manic” episode, which is less dramatic and destructive than an actual manic episode. Hypo-manic episodes do not cause major impairment in social or occupational functioning (Barlow & Durand, 2005). Sometimes creativity is increased during these episodes, and a writer may find that she can stay up all night writing and writing without stopping. Then the bipolar II patient may suffer from the same major depression that the bipolar I does. Depression is the more prevalent state in most patients with Bipolar II. As one woman described it, “it’s all the down with none of the up.”
Treatment for Bipolar disorder varies, but always requires medication. A combination of anti-psychotics, mood-stabilizers, and antidepressants must be “played around with” until the correct dosages are reached. Many patients go off their medication when they are feeling better, to later go back on it. It takes patients an average of three times of this cycle to accept that they will need to continue their medication permanently.
Bipolar of both forms can be a serious, debilitating illness. However, many others are able to live normal, happy lives. The keys to this success are:
– A correct diagnosis: Many patients go un-diagnosed or mis-diagnosed for years.
– Proper Psychiatric and Psychological Care: Medication dosages will need to be adjusted occasionally. Do not go off your medication unless your doctor tells you to!
– A support System: Family, friends, doctors, and support groups are vital in successful management of any mental illness. Call your local mental health center for referrals to support groups. This can be an excellent way to cope with your illness.