What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar Affective Disorder, also referred to as Manic Depression or manic-depressive disorder, is a brain disorder that affects approximately 2 million Americans 18 years or older during any given year. Typically Bipolar Disorder begins during adolescence or early adulthood although it is not uncommon for a person to with Bipolar Disorder to go undiagnosed until late in their life. Approximately 80 % of patients will experience multiple Bipolar episodes throughout their lives, and another 15 % will end their lives by suicide.

Bipolar Disorder affects both men and women, young and old, from all races and backgrounds. Bipolar Disorder is in the same family of illnesses (called “affective disorders”) as clinical depression. However, unlike clinical depression that appears more frequently in women than in men, Bipolar Disorder appears to affect both men and women in equal numbers.

The origins of Bipolar Affective Disorder are biological, yet the person with Bipolar Disorder will experience it to become psychological in nature. Bipolar Disorder is very contradictory during that it gives its victim advantage and pleasure, yet it follows up with near overwhelming suffering and discord. There is currently no known cure for Bipolar Disorder. Most patients do show signs of improvement with the proper medication, coupled with therapy and education. The majority of people with Bipolar Disorder can lead near to normal, relatively productive lives as long as they continue to treat their illness.

The textbook definition of Bipolar Disorder is: “Several Manic or Hypomanic Episodes, accompanied by one or more Major Depressive Episodes. These episodes typically happen in cycles.”.

In simpler terms, Bipolars have mood swings ranging from grand elation and euphoria, to devastating lows and dispair. Most people with Bipolar Disorder experience periods between that could be described as normal or balanced. Now you may argue that everyone feels these ups and downs, does that mean that everyone has Bipolar Disorder? No! For most people, the emotional ups and downs are the direct effects of happy or sad moments in their lives. For the person with Bipolar Disorder, those ups and downs do not always coincide with happy or sad moments. Often the ups occur during very troubled times, and the downs occur during times of great happiness. These ups and downs can rapidly cycle throughout the day, or they can last for days and weeks.

Bipolar Disorder is distinguished from Major Depressive Disorder by the presence of manic or hypomanic episodes. It is distinguished from Schizoaffective Disorder by the absence of psychotic symptoms (including delusions, hallucinations) during periods of stable mood.

Bipolar Disorder is a spectrum of disorders. Bipolar I disorder is characterized by a history of at least one manic episode, and (usually) depressive episodes. Bipolar II disorder is characterized by hypomanic episodes alternating with depressive episodes. Cyclothymia is characterized by highs that fulfil some but not all criteria for hypomania and lows that fulfil some but not all criteria for depression.

See below for the American Psychiatric Association DSM-IV definitions of: