Bipolar disorder is a mental disorder that can affect one’s mood, behavior, and functioning. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Bipolar disorder . . . is a mental health condition that causes extreme mood swings that include emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression).” In other words, for a person affected by bipolar disorder, his or her mood can go “from zero to one hundred” in a short matter of time.
Bipolar disorder is still being heavily researched by scientists and doctors, as it has no single definitive cause. Many speculate it could be caused by a combination of genetics, environment, and altered brain chemistry or structure.
Those who are diagnosed with the disorder typically experience both manic episodes and depressive episodes. People experiencing a manic episode might be abnormally upbeat, jumpy, or “wired.” They may have increased activity, energy, or agitation; have an exaggerated sense of self-confidence; and experience a decreased need for sleep. The person may be abnormally talkative or easily distractible. Poor decision-making is also a common sign. This often is manifested by the affected person engaging in large spending sprees or risky sexual behavior.
The disorder is also characterized by major depressive episodes, which include a depressed mood, lack of interest, loss of appetite, insomnia, fatigue, and, in severe cases, feelings of worthlessness or thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
Forty-six million people around the world are currently diagnosed with bipolar disorder, including approximately 1 percent of the United States population. Those living with bipolar disorder have the highest likelihood of being classified with “severe” impairment in comparison to those living with other mood disorders.
The average age bipolar disorder first appears is 25 years old, with people between the ages of 18 and 29 having the highest prevalence of the disorder. Left untreated, it can result in a 9.2-year reduction in the person’s expected life span.
The disorder can also contribute to the development of substance abuse disorder. Additionally, people with untreated bipolar disorder have a higher risk (15 percent to 17 percent) of dying by suicide.
Treatment for bipolar disorder typically includes medication. Mood stabilizers are one class of medications commonly used to control manic episodes. Antidepressants can be used to help manage depressive episodes. Antipsychotics are used in combination with mood stabilizers and antidepressants if symptoms of depression or mania still occur.
Treatment can also include regular therapy sessions so the affected person learns how to manage his or her emotions and create healthy habits in response to them.
How to Help
If you or someone you know is struggling with any of the aforementioned symptoms, it is critical to seek diagnosis and treatment with a licensed mental health provider.
Bipolar disorder, when left untreated, can severely affect the life of the person living with the disorder, as well as the lives of the person’s family and friends. The extreme high and low mood swings can disrupt one’s workplace, personal life, and relationships. It is important the affected person gets an accurate diagnosis and starts treatment with medication and therapy so he or she can live as functional a life as possible.
Educating yourself and others about mental health disorders is always helpful. Through educating others and advocating for those with mental health disorders, we can reduce the stigmas and stereotypes that are associated with them.
Have compassion and sympathy for those who are struggling with mental health challenges. Love them in their disorder, and see them for who they are.
Ricky B. Wallace is the founder and owner of Psi Behavioral Health, LLC, and Psi Health Care Services, Inc., a community mental health center located in an underserved area of Jacksonville, Florida, for nearly ten years.
“Bipolar disorder.” Mayo Clinic. Accessed October 11, 2022. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bipolar-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355955.
“Bipolar Disorder.” National Alliance on Mental Health. Accessed October 11, 2022.
“Bipolar Disorder—Fact Sheet.” Treatment Advocacy Center. Accessed October 11, 2022. https://www.treatmentadvocacycenter.org/evidence-and-research/learn-more-about/463-bipolar-disorder-fact-sheet.
Dattani, Saloni, Hannah Ritchie, and Max Roser. “Mental Health.” Our World in Data. Accessed October 11, 2022. https://ourworldindata.org/mental-health.
Disclaimer: The information shared on this page is not meant to diagnose or treat a mental health condition. We encourage you to follow up with your health-care provider and seek a mental health professional for individual consultation and care.