Bipolar Disorder

The following content provides information on Bipolar Disorder. It also includes available books and related websites.

Fact Sheet

Volume 2, No. 1 December, 2001

If you or someone you care about has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, you may feel you are the only one facing the difficulties of this illness. But you are not alone. The illness affects one out of every 100 people, and usually begins in adolescence or early adulthood. Different from the normal ups and downs that everyone goes through, the symptoms of bipolar disorder are severe and include unusual shifts in mood, energy, and ability to function. The disorder is not the result of a "weak" or unstable personality. It is treatable, with both medications and psychotherapy, and people with the disorder can lead full and productive lives.

What are the Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder causes dramatic mood swings - from overly "high" and/or irritable to sad and hopeless, and then back again, often with periods of normal mood in-between.

Signs/symptoms of mania (or a manic episode):

  • Increased energy, activity, and restlessness
  • Excessively "high", overly good, euphoric mood
  • Extreme irritability
  • Racing thoughts, rapid speech, jumping from one idea to another
  • Distractibility, inability to concentrate
  • Little sleep needed
  • Unrealistic beliefs in one's abilities and powers, inflated self-esteem, extreme optimism
  • Poor judgment and recklessness
  • Spending sprees
  • Increased sexual drive
  • Abuse of drugs, particularly cocaine, alcohol, and sleeping medications
  • Provocative, intrusive, or aggressive behavior
  • Denial that anything is wrong

Signs/symptoms of depression (or a depressive episode):

  • 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
  • Difficulty with sleeping too much or not sleeping at all
  • Change in appetite and/or unintended weight loss or gain
  • Chronic pain or other persistent bodily symptoms not caused by physical illness or injury
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts

In addition to symptoms of mania and/or depression, some individuals may experience hypomania and/or mixed episodes:

Hypomania, a mild to moderate level of mania, may be a pleasurable experience for some individuals, and can even be associated with enhanced productivity. Thus, even when family and friends learn to recognize the mood swings as possible bipolar disorder, individuals may deny that anything is wrong. Without proper treatment, however, this may develop into severe mania or depression.

Mixed episodes are perhaps the most disabling form of the illness. They involve symptoms of both mania and depression and occur at the same time or alternate frequently during the day. Individuals may feel excitable or agitated as in mania, but also feel irritable and depressed, instead of feeling on top of the world.

What Causes Bipolar Disorder?

Abnormalities in brain biochemistry and in the structure and activity of certain brain pathways are responsible for the extreme shifts in mood, energy, and functioning that characterize bipolar disorder. In addition, research strongly suggests that the disorder is often an inherited problem. Even so, there does not appear to be any one cause of the disorder, rather it appears to be a compilation of factors including genes and environment.

How Is Bipolar Disorder Treated?

Medication — Most people with bipolar disorder take medication to regulate their moods. Lithium has been widely used as a mood stabilizer and in some cases, antidepressants are also prescribed (e.g., Paxil, Prozac, Zoloft, or Wellbutrin).

Psychotherapy — Therapists can help identify patterns and triggers leading up to episodes of bipolar disorder. They can also suggest coping strategies as well as provide basic education about the illness.

Self Care — Bipolar disorder is not an illness that you can treat on your own. But you can do some things for yourself that will bolster your treatment program:

Take your medications — even if you're feeling well.
Pay attention to warning signs (identified patterns or triggers to episodes).
Avoid drugs/alcohol and check with a physician before taking other medications.

(Exerpts taken from National Institute of Mental Health; Mayo Clinic)

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Related books & websites

Bipolar Disorder: A Guide for Patients & Families
(Mondimore & Mondimore, 1999)

Overcoming Depression & Manic Depression:
A Whole-Person Approach
(Wider, 2001)

New Hope for People with Bipolar Disorder
(Fawcett, Golden, Rosenfeld, & Goodwin, 2000)

Why Am I Up? Why Am I Down?
(Granet & Ferber, 1999)

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

Canadian Mental Health Association

Patient Centers - Bipolar Disorder Links, Canada

(Excerpts taken from National Institute of Mental Health; Mayo Clinic)

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