Bipolar disorder, commonly referred to as manic depression (we will use the two terms interchangeably in this information), is a unique type of depressive disorder. It’s like a cross between a mental health disorder and a depression.

What is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a unique type of depressive disorder in which a person alternates between manic highs and depressive lows. They may be in a manic state one moment, experiencing an excessive amount of energy and even going without sleep, only to come crashing down into a depressive mood hours, days, weeks, months, or even years later, depending on how fast they cycle through the disorder.

Patients with bipolar disorder also frequently struggle with other forms of mental illness, such as anxiety disorders or psychosis. Their manic states often resemble schizophrenia. In fact, “As recently as the 1950s, all manic depressive illnesses were lumped together with schizophrenia,” says Dr. Ronald Fieve, largely because of their similarities and the high rates of other mental illness commonly seen among bipolar patients. (Fieve, 2006, p. 157)

Types of bipolar disorder

Psychiatrists have recently divided bipolar disorder into two categories:

Type 1:

This older, more serious type of bipolar disorder is marked by euphoric manic states in which a person might stay awake for days, experience psychosis and hallucinations, paranoid rage, or maintain grandiose delusions about themselves.

Type 1 usually starts in adolescence or young adulthood, and patients often require hospitalization during extreme bouts. Ninety-percent of patients with type 1 will experience at least 1 stay in a psychiatric facility in their lifetime, and two-thirds will have two or more. (Woods, 2000)

Type 2:

This is considered a more mild type of bipolar disorder experienced by most of the population. It shows the same pattern of symptoms but they aren’t as extreme.

Rapid-cycling bipolar disorder

This is diagnosed when a person experiences four or more cyclical mood episodes within a 1-year period. In extreme cases a person may rapid cycle over a weekly or even daily period.

How many people have bipolar disorder?

It’s hard to know for certain, because bipolar disorder is often mistaken for other mental health problems, such as anxiety or ADHD. But some estimates say as many as 6.5% of people will experience one bipolar episode in their lifetime. (Das et al., 2005)

The effects & consequences of manic depression

Left untreated, bipolar disorder can be very damaging to a person’s life. Manic patients often make poor, impulsive decisions that they later come to regret. Their mood swings and the impaired decision making of their hypermanic states often causes friction with friends, family, and employers. Manic patients also have much higher rates of suicide: It’s estimated that 10% to 20% of bipolar patients will eventually commit suicide, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. However, with proper care and management of the illness, people with bipolar disorder can live a normal life or even use the condition to their advantage. (Fieve, 2006)

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