We all experience normal changes in mood. Experiencing a job loss, school failure, loss of a loved one or relationship difficulties can make us feel sad. Similarly a great success or exciting event can makes us feel happy or even elated. In bipolar disorder mood changes are outside the range of normal and not necessarily associated with life events.
Bipolar disorder is also known as manic-depressive-illness. It is a treatable, cyclical mood disorder that manifests itself in alternating mood swings, from unusual emotional highs called mania to unusual lows called depression. The symptoms may become so severe that they interfere with ordinary everyday activities, cause one to behave in uncharacteristic ways, damage relationships and can result in suicide. These mood swings may range from mild to severe and may last from hours to days, weeks or months.
Research suggests this disorder is genetically based. It can be triggered by drug abuse, stressful or traumatic events, illness or other environmental factors. Its cause is unknown but it is believed to be due to imbalances of certain brain chemicals. Each person is unique in his or her clinical presentation, in severity, symptoms and number and pattern of episodes. For some individuals years of normal mood may be experienced between episodes and for others several episodes may be experienced in the same year. In addition to the mood swings patients may experience anxiety, inattention, social withdrawal, substance abuse, or psychosis making a diagnosis difficult.
Research claims bipolar disorder affects anywhere from 1-3.7% of the population.7 That is over two million adults over the age of eighteen. It typically starts in late adolescence or early adulthood, although it can start in childhood or later in life. It affects men and women in equal numbers and any social, ethnic or economic background.
It is important to bear in mind this is a treatable illness. For most individuals this will require life long treatment. The earlier a person with bipolar disorder is treated and chooses to remain on their treatment, the better the outcome for the course of the disease. Without treatment the illness can last for weeks, months or years and seriously impact the person’s family, work, and social life. However, with understanding of the disease and its symptoms, support and treatment a person can expect to live a full and productive life.