What is Bipolar Disorder?

The very term bipolar disorder conjures up a number of images for those who are not familiar with this form of mental issue. Also called manic depression, this disorder affects millions of people around the world and is often wrongly diagnosed or simply not fully understood.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

This is a mental disorder that is noted for its periods of elevated spirits followed by episodes of depression. Those who suffer from this disorder teeter between manic or hypomania moods that can be elevated to the point of psychosis and back down to deep depression. It’s as if there is no emotional balances that can be maintained as the moods shift back one to the other which can take weeks, days, hours, or even moments to occur.

During the manic phase, the person feels very happy and energetic sometimes to the point of being very irritable. The decisions they make are often poorly thought out and have little to no regard for the consequences. It is during this state that they enjoy very little sleep because of the elevated energy levels.

When the mania slips to depression they will often avoid eye contact with others, have a negative outlook on life, and even cry for extended periods of time. When depressed their risk of committing suicide rises significantly along with the chances of harming themselves. Commonly associated with this disorder are anxiety issues and substance abuse.

Around 3% of the people living in the US either have or have had bipolar disorder. Interestingly enough, the percentages are lower in countries around the world. However, that may be due to the condition not being recognized or not diagnosed correctly. In the US men and women stand about an equal chance of having this condition. In addition to the social stigma that is associated with having bipolar disorder, people with this affliction tend to miss more days of work as a result. Left untreated, manic depression may actually work itself out, stay the same, or lead down the road to accident or suicide depending in large part on how it affects the person.


There is no singular, identifiable cause of bipolar disorder and what causes the condition to occur is still not very well understood. It is known that it involves a combination of genetic as well as environmental factors that play a role in the onset and severity of the condition. There are genes that contribute to the risk of developing this condition. However, it does vary in terms of the overall effect that it creates. In other words, two people with the same type of genes that makes them susceptible to bipolar disorder may lead two entirely different lives with one being unaffected while the other experiences mild to severe symptoms.

In addition to genetic, there are environmental issues that can contribute to the formation of manic depression which include enduring childhood abuse and long term stress. Many people who develop the symptoms of bipolar disorder have reported the issues of being under stress or having been abused when they were younger.
Today, there are two categories of this condition that are recognized by medical health professionals;

Bipolar I Disorder: At least one episode of mania reported.

Bipolar II Disorder: At least one episode of mania and one episode of depression.

In addition, those who experience mild symptoms over a prolonged period of time may experience what is known as a cyclothymic disorder. If this particular condition was assisted by the use of drugs or medical issues, then it does have a separate classification and is treated as such. There are other disorders that may be present in those who have bipolar disorder which includes the following:

Attention Deficit Disorder
Personality Disorder

Each of these disorders can contribute to manic depression and must be treated in conjunction. The complications brought on by other disorders can help mask the symptoms of bipolar disorder and lead to a wrong diagnosis.


There are a number of treatments that are used for this particular condition which include psychotherapies as well as medications. The medications used are generally antipsychotics or mood stabilizers that are designed to provide more balance so that the person does not experience the extremes of the condition. Medications such as lithium and anticonvulsants are common when treating manic depression.

Psychotherapies are generally done with a psychiatrist that helps the patient identify when their moods are swinging from one extreme to another so they can take the appropriate steps to counter the effects. Psychotherapies are not necessarily cures, but they can provide the sufferer with the tools to identify what is happening. In many cases, those who suffer from this form of illness are not aware that it is happening which makes treatments even more difficult to administer. By recognizing the symptoms, the person can take more medication or engage in activities that help calm the mania or get out of the depressive state.

For those who are treated in a hospital against their will, often because they do not realize or accept that they have this condition often have to go several times. This is because the effects of the treatments do not take hold unless the patient understands what they have and accepts the results. Benzodiazepines are often used in short term treatments to correct behavioral issues.

One of the issues with bipolar disorder is that the different medications that are used to treat either the mania or depression must be stopped if the other side starts to emerge. For example, antidepressant medication needs to be halted if the person is experiencing mania. Instead, mood stabilizers are put into place. In addition, there are also electroconvulsive therapies that have shown to work when other forms of medications are not showing any positive results.

In the end, treating bipolar disorder is a complicated process, but one that can be mastered by those who generally use a combination of medications and psychotherapies. By being able to identify the times in which mania is emerging, those who suffer from this condition are far more likely to avoid experiencing the severe mood swings that this disorder can bring.

About Jason

As "The Man That Men Will Talk To," Jason Fierstein, MA, LPC is a private practice counselor and psychotherapist for men and couples in the greater Phoenix, Arizona, area. He works with struggling men to find happiness in their lives, and with their wives.
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