Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is an illness that causes changes in an individual's mood, energy and functional ability. People with bipolar disorder can experience extreme mood shifts, from feeling "high" or irritable (mania) to intense sadness or hopelessness and then back again with periods of normalcy in between. These mood swings can affect relationships, work or school performance, and may even lead to suicide.

Bipolar disorder is treatable and individuals suffering from this disorder can lead productive lives; however, it is a long-term illness that must be managed carefully throughout a person's lifetime.


In addition to feelings of increased energy or irritability, individuals with bipolar disorder may also:

  • Abuse of drugs and alcohol
  • Exhibit behaviors that other's perceive as intrusive and/or aggressive
  • Have a decreased need for sleep
  • Are distractible and unable to concentrate
  • Engaging in risky sexual behavior
  • Have feelings of grandiosity (believe themselves to be more famous, powerful or intelligent than one really is)
  • Have racing thoughts and talk fast, going from one subject to another
  • Go on spending sprees
  • Exhibit symptoms similar to unipolar depression

Causes and Risk Factors

It is estimated that one to three percent of Americans suffer from bipolar disorder at some time during adulthood. 

The age of onset is typically in the 20's, however, bipolar disorder is now being identified among children and adolescents with increasing frequency. A family history of bipolar disorder significantly increases the chances of developing the illness.


A physician may make a formal diagnosis of bipolar disorder when the patient is experiencing distinctly elevated or irritable moods and at least three of the following symptoms present for four days or more and markedly affect functioning.

  • Increase in goal-directed activity of physical restlessness
  • Unusual talkativeness; rapid speech
  • Flights of ideas or subjective impression that thoughts are racing
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Inflated self-esteem; belief that one has special talents, powers, or abilities
  • Distractibility; attention easily diverted
  • Excessive involvement in pleasurable activities which are likely to have undesirable consequences


Bipolar disorder treatment may include drug treatment (mood stabilizers, anticonvulsants, and antipsychotics).

It may also include psychosocial treatment (cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoeducation, family therapy, individual therapy, and social rhythm therapy).