What is Bipolar Disorder?

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Bipolar disorder (previously known as manic-depressive disorder) is a psychiatric condition that impacts approximately 2.6 million Americans. This condition is characterized by “mood swings” which shift from mania to depression. A person with bipolar illness can shift rapidly from feeling high, excited, “on top of the world” to feeling extremely depressed and suicidal, sometimes in as little as 20 minutes. Other people with the disorder may spend months or years in one emotional state or the other.

Typically, bipolar disorder is diagnosed when there are episodes of mania or hypomania. Mania is a condition characterized by an increase in energy, an increase in irritability, a reduced need for sleep, and talkativeness. Those in a manic episode may be disruptive, confrontational, argumentative, or demanding. They may stay up all night, getting by on 2-3 hours of sleep; without feeling tired the next day. They may laugh and joke about topics which are offensive. They sometimes speak so fast and so much that others have trouble understanding them. They also tend to have disorganized thinking; a feeling that their minds are racing, and that they can’t catch hold of their thoughts.

Hypomania is similar to mania, except the symptoms tend to be less extreme. Sometimes, people with hypomania appear driven, ambitious, and high-achieving; and their actual hypomania goes untreated.

Bipolar disorder is best treated through a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Yet not all medications work for all people.

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