Bipolar, as the name suggests, refers to two opposing poles or sides of something. In this case, it refers to a psychological disorder. Bipolar Disorder is a mental disorder which consists of extreme phases of mania at some times, and depression at the other. Since bipolar disorder is a mood disorder, it isn’t surprising that individuals who suffer from it experience extreme shifts in mood.
To understand bipolar disorder correctly, we’ll have to briefly understand what depression and mania is.
Depression is also a mood disorder wherein the individual experiences persistent feelings of sadness and a loss of interest in almost everything. The person feels low, gloomy, lethargic and may also have difficulties sleeping.
Mania is a psychological condition in which the individual experiences unreasonable euphoria, and is extremely hyperactive and may also experience delusions. In a manic episode, individuals have racing thoughts which are uncontrollable, and may also be irritable and have erratic behaviour.
Now that we know what Depression and Mania are, it will be easier for us to understand what Bipolar Disorder exactly is.
People with Bipolar Disorder may have a depressed phase which may last for weeks, or even months. Then suddenly, they may experience an extreme shift in mood, to a manic episode, which may last for several days or even weeks.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Bipolar Disorder affects around 2.6% of the American adult population (people aged 18 and above), that’s a whopping 5.7 million adult Americans every year.
The three main types of symptoms that have been observed in bipolar disorder are Mania, Depression and Hypomania.
As discussed earlier, when symptoms of mania are observed in an individual, the person will be unreasonably excited and hyperactive, and will be unable to control this heightened level of excitement and awareness. The individual will also have rapid & uncontrollable thoughts. This has a downside as well, since their behaviour becomes erratic, individuals may participate in activities which they may not normally do, such as drug use, alcohol use, or being physically involved with a person(s).
Hypomania is similar to mania, with the difference of intensity and severity. While mania is considered to be extremely erratic and hyperactive behaviour, hypomania is a mellow form of mania, in the sense that it is less intense and severe. Behaviours and thoughts during a hypomania episode may be controlled with continuous practice and therapy.
Depressive episode can be observed by a markedly observable level of sadness in an individual, loss of interest in activities once enjoyed by the individual, loss of energy, troubles with sleep (sleeping too little or sleeping too much) and appetite loss.
Diagnosis of Bipolar Disorders
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) by American Psychiatric Association (APA) recognises 3 disorders under the name ‘Bipolar Disorders’.
- Bipolar I- This is a manic-depressive disorder which may or may not have psychotic symptoms.
- Bipolar II- This type is characterized by alternating manic and depressive episodes, which are less intense and severe, and normally do not hinder the normal functioning of the individual.
- Cyclothymic Disorder- This type consists of a cycle of small episodes of hypomania and depression.
The diagnosis for bipolar disorder requires at least one depressive and one manic or hypomanic episode. The individual is diagnosed for symptoms of mania and depression.
The DSM states that a manic episode must last at least a week for it to be considered for a bipolar disorder diagnosis. Diagnosis criteria for manic episode is:
- little need for sleep
- psychomotor agitation (pacing, hand wringing, etc.)
- an increased interest in goals or activities
- increased rate of speech (talking fast)
- flight of ideas
- high self-esteem
- getting easily distracted
- increased pursuit of activities with a high risk of danger
The symptoms of depression must last for at least two weeks, and should be recent. Diagnosis criteria for a depressive episode is:
- feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- trouble thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
- changes in appetite or weight, sleep, or psychomotor activity
- thoughts of death or suicidal plans or attempts
- decreased energy
On the basis of this diagnosing criteria, psychologists place a person in one of the three disorders in the ‘Bipolar Disorders’ category.
Bipolar Disorder is a serious health condition, and requires a professional diagnosis. If you think you or someone you know displays any of the symptoms persistently, seek professional mental health help immediately.
Contact us for certified mental health practitioners to help you through rough times.
Bipolar disorder statistics. Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. (2019, July 12). Retrieved November 5, 2021, from https://www.dbsalliance.org/education/bipolar-disorder/bipolar-disorder-statistics/.
Krans, B. (2019, October 4). Diagnosis guide for bipolar disorder. Healthline. Retrieved November 5, 2021, from https://www.healthline.com/health/bipolar-disorder/bipolar-diagnosis-guide#cyclothymia.
MediLexicon International. (n.d.). Bipolar disorder: Causes, symptoms, types, and treatment. Medical News Today. Retrieved November 5, 2021, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/37010.