Bipolar Disorder

Facts About Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a chronic illness with recurring episodes of mania and depression that can last from one day to months. This mental illness causes unusual and dramatic shifts in mood, energy and the ability to think clearly. Cycles of high (manic) and low (depressive) moods may follow an irregular pattern that differs from the typical ups and downs experienced by most people. The symptoms of bipolar disorder can have a negative impact on a person’s life. Damaged relationships or a decline in job or school performance are potential effects, but positive outcomes are possible.

Bipolar disorder affects men and women equally, with about 2.8% of U.S. adults experiencing bipolar disorder each year. Approximately 83% of cases of bipolar disorder are classified as “severe.” More than 10 million Americans have bipolar disorder. Although the illness can occur at any point in life, more than one-half of all cases begin between ages 15-25. Bipolar disorder affects men and women equally.

Symptoms and Characteristics of Bipolar Disorder

Two main features characterize people who live with bipolar disorder: intensity and oscillation (ups and downs). People living with bipolar disorder often experience two intense emotional states. These two states are known as mania and depression. A manic state can be identified by feelings of extreme irritability and/or euphoria, along with several other symptoms during the same week such as agitation, surges of energy, reduced need for sleep, talkativeness, pleasure-seeking and increased risk-taking behavior. On the other side, when an individual experiences symptoms of depression they feel extremely sad, hopeless and loss of energy. Not everyone’s symptoms are the same and the severity of mania and depression can vary.

Types of Bipolar Disorder

  • Bipolar I Disorder is an illness in which people have experienced one or more episodes of mania. Most people diagnosed with bipolar I will have episodes of both mania and depression, though an episode of depression is not necessary for a diagnosis. To be diagnosed with bipolar I, a person’s manic episodes must last at least seven days or be so severe that hospitalization is required.
  • Bipolar II Disorder is a subset of bipolar disorder in which people experience depressive episodes shifting back and forth with hypomanic episodes, but never a “full” manic episode.
  • Cyclothymic Disorder or Cyclothymia is a chronically unstable mood state in which people experience hypomania and mild depression for at least two years. People with cyclothymia may have brief periods of normal mood, but these periods last less than eight weeks.
  • Bipolar Disorder, “other specified” and “unspecified” is when a person does not meet the criteria for bipolar I, II or cyclothymia but has still experienced periods of clinically significant abnormal mood elevation.

Treatment and Support for Those Living with Bipolar Disorder and Their Families

Treatment includes psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and family-focused therapy;  medications, such as mood stabilizers, antipsychotic medications and, to a lesser extent, antidepressants; self-management strategieslike education and recognition of an episode’s early symptoms; and complementary health approaches, such as aerobic exercise meditation, faith and prayer can support, but not replace, treatment.

We also recommend our NAMI support groups and classes for those living with mental health conditions, as well as their families and loved ones; find a local support group run by a California affiliate.

Community Voices

“Bipolar Disorder is Not a Death Sentence” (NAMI blog)

More stories and posts about living with or being impacted by bipolar disorder coming soon. Telling personal stories of recovery can be one of the most effective ways to diminish stigma and help individuals and families who are facing challenges related to mental health conditions. Submit your story for consideration.