Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depressive illness, is a serious, double-edged mental illness. In contrast to the sustained bleakness of major depression (technically called unipolar disorder when episodes only involve major depression and no manic or hypomanic periods), bipolar disorder is characterized by cyclical periods of high energy and elation and then low energy and despair. The pattern of the mood alternations varies widely among those with the disorder. In some people, years of...
Treatment can make a huge difference. With a combination of things -- good medical care, medication, talk therapy, lifestyle changes, and the support of friends and family -- you can feel better. Bipolar disorder -- or manic depression, as it used to be called -- may not have a cure. But plenty of people with this condition do well; they have families and jobs and live normal lives.
Type I causes periods of mania that often alternate with periods of depression. These periods might last for weeks or months.
Type II causes periods of depression that alternate with a less severe form of mania called hypomania.
There are also other types of bipolar disorder. Cyclothymia is characterized by frequent but milder changes in your mood. Rapid cycling is a term used to describe cases of bipolar I or II disorder, in which mood episodes occur 4 or more times over a 1-year period. Women are more likely to have this type of illness course than men and it can come and go at any time in the course of bipolar disorder. Rapid cycling is driven largely by depression and carries an increased risk for suicidal thoughts or behaviors.
Whatever type of bipolar disorder you have, there is a still lot of variation from person to person. While some people are beset with frequent mood swings, others go years or even decades before having another. Everyone's experience is different.
Bipolar disorder can make you feel utterly alone. But that really isn't the case. More than 2 million adults in the U.S. are coping with bipolar disorder right now.
It's important not to blame yourself for your condition. Bipolar disorder is a physical illness, not a sign of personal weakness. It's like diabetes, heart disease, or any other health condition.
The important thing is to focus on the future. Living with bipolar disorder can be tough. But don't let it hijack your life. Instead, take action and regain control of your health. With dedication and the help of your health care providers, you can feel better again.
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Joseph Goldberg, MD on October 27, 2014