What is Bipolar Disorder?

Soul to Sole

About Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a biological illness which causes unusual shifts in mood, energy level, and your ability to function in life. About one percent of the US population experiences bipolar disorder. It was previously called manic depression because of the characteristic fluctuations between highly elevated moods and major depression. It turns out that it is not so black and white. There are many moods occurring on a spectrum. Rather than just experiencing mania or depression, people with bipolar disorder experience various moods and symptoms between these extremes.

Everyone has times when they feel sadness, have trouble coping, or feel overwhelmed. With bipolar disorder, these mood shifts are more severe, and differ from the ups and downs that most people face. These symptoms can end in damaged relationships, poor work or school performance, even to the point of suicide or dangerous behaviors. Bipolar disorder has one name, but it looks very different from person to person. Some go very quickly from feeling euphoric or irritable to feeling extremely sad and hopeless. Some experience less severe shifts in mood, involving a milder form of mania known as hypomania. For some, depression and mania occur at the same time in what is know as a mixed episode. This is a tumultuous period, a chaotic experience of feeling wildly energetic but sad and hopeless at the same time.

Usually, bipolar individuals experience some periods of “normal” mood between episodes – called euthymia – when they are neither manic or depressed. Some return to a fully functional level during this time, while others continue to experience symptoms such as low mood, anxiety, or trouble sleeping.

Like other biological illnesses such as diabetes, bipolar disorder is a life-long illness that requires constant management with medication and other therapies. When treated effectively, bipolar individuals can lead healthy productive lives. Although there is no cure, there is hope.

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