Bipolar disorder was previously diagnosed as ‘manic depression’. As the older name suggests, someone with bipolar disorder will have severe mood swings. These usually last several weeks or months and are far beyond the experiences of the general population. The symptoms can be described as follows:
Low: 'Depressive' feelings of intense depression and despair.
High: 'Manic' feelings of extreme happiness and despair.
Mixed: Depressed mood with the restlessness and overactivity of a manic episode.
About 1 in every 100 adults has bipolar disorder at some point in their life. Symptoms usually start during or after the teenage years and it is unusual for them to start after the age of 40. Men and women are affected equally.
To meet the diagnostic criteria for Bipolar I, the individual must have experienced at least one high, or manic episode, that has lasted for longer than one week. Some people with Bipolar I will have only manic episodes, although most will also have periods of depression. When untreated, manic episodes can generally last 3 to 6 months, with untreated depressive episodes lasting 6 to 12 months.
To meet the diagnostic criteria for Bipolar II, the individual must have experienced one episode of severe depression, but only mild manic episodes (hypomania).
To meet the diagnostic criteria for Rapid Cycling, the individual must have experienced more than four mood swings in a 12 month period. This affects around 1 in 10 people with bipolar disorder, and can happen with both types I and II.
To meet the diagnostic criteria for Cyclothymia, the individual must have experienced mood swings that are not as severe as those in full bipolar disorder. The length of the mood swing can be longer, however and can develop into full bipolar disorder.
Speculation about what causes it
Current psychiatric/mental health research suggests that Bipolar Disorder runs in families, as it seems to have more to do with genes than with upbringing. There may be a physical problem with the brain systems which control our moods - this is why bipolar disorder can often be controlled with medication. Episodes can sometimes be brought on by stressful experiences or physical illness.
However, this conventional wisdom ignores pressing evidence for environmental conditioning, including the high correlation of BPD and other psychiatric conditions with upbringing in socialist or liberal nations, and the high correlation of increased mental disorder with education in public/state schools.[Citation Needed]
Treatment of bipolar disorder
Bipolar individuals can certainly lead a normal and largely happy life, and have often been leaders in politics, science and the arts. Famous bipolar individuals include Winston Churchill, Buzz Aldrin, Spike Milligan, Stephen Fry and Tim Burton, among many others. A link between bipolar disorder and the arts is often debated, as many famous artists and musicians (including Beethoven, Vincent Van Gogh, Emily Dickinson, and Kurt Cobain) have suffered from the condition.
Traditional long term treatment frequently involves the prescription of mood-stabilizing drugs, especially lithium, which prevent the likelihood of manic episodes, and psychiatric assessments to determine the well being of the patient and whether the medication is required. More recently, anticonvulsants such as Depakote, Tegretol, and Lamictal are used as mood stabilizers. If the patient experiences psychotic symptoms (e.g. paranoia, delusions, and/or hallucinations), anti-psychotic drugs are used.
Recently, a nutritional supplement has been used to treat bipolar patients (or greatly reduce their need for medication). The supplement was featured in several psychiatric journals and Discover magazine positively reported on the supplement. However, Health Canada, the department responsible for national public health in Canada (where the creator of the supplement is located), has issued warnings about using the supplement, cautioning against potential health risks and citing nine reports of serious adverse reactions.
As a last resort, electro-convulsive therapy (ECT, aka "electroshock therapy") is used. This process is characterized by the creation of seizures through electric shock. While often associated with horror movies and the abuses present at the beginning of psychology, today the procedure is done in a medical setting where the patient is under anesthesia. Due to its dangerous nature with regard to memory and cognition, the procedure is only done when all medication has failed and at the consent of the patient (though some jurisdictions allow the court system to mandate the procedure).
It is important to note that many bipolar individuals resist medical treatment due to the "high" induced by mania. This is a dangerous action, as unmanaged mania often results in drug and alcohol abuse, hallucinations, and violence toward oneself and others.
- Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
- WebMD's Bipolar Disorder Health Center
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline