Unfortunately, most people don’t understand what bipolar disorder is. In accordance with pop culture, most people assume those with the condition struggle with frequent and rapid mood changes. However, this is anything but true.
In order to clear some of the misconceptions, we’ve developed a list of 10 bipolar disorder facts everyone should know about. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.
1.) Bipolar Disorder is Characterized by Shifts that Look Like Depression
Often referred to as “mood episodes,” the number one characteristic of bipolar disorder involves dramatic shifts in one’s behavior and moods. Normally, there are two distinct types of shifts that occur: ¹
- Manic – When one is filled with energy and has a heightened sense of creativity and euphoria.
- Depression – When one experiences low feeling, such as sadness, worriedness, emptiness, and a lack of energy.
While it may be assumed that a person with bipolar disorder is always in one of these episodes, it’s actually quite common for people to have periods where they experience no symptoms at all.
When one experiences bipolar disorder, they often show signs that look a lot similar to a major depressive disorder (depression). Unfortunately, this tends to lead to mental health professionals making a misdiagnosis.
2.) Manic Episodes are Complex
Symptoms of mania are much harder to determine than those of depression. Sometimes, mania symptoms can seem beneficial for someone. For example, if you’re getting a lot done at work due to your manic episode, your boss may congratulate you on the good effort.
However, being as mania is usually followed by a depressive episode, it’s very important to identify the symptoms.
Symptoms of a manic episode for bipolar disorder include:
- Abnormal amount of increased energy
- Abundance of happiness and exhilaration
- Agitation or irritability
- Difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
- Developing a sense of overconfidence
- Engaging in risky behavior (i.e. sexual or financial risks)
- Feeling jumpy or wired
- Taking on too many tasks at once
- Talking quickly
3.) Some People Struggle with Hypomania Rather Than Mania
One of the reasons manic episodes can be so difficult to identify is the fact that they aren’t as apparent as depressive episodes. A person struggling with bipolar disorder may be experiencing hypomania – a lower severity of the mood elevation – rather than a complete manic episode. ²
While hypomania doesn’t present the same dangers as a full-blown manic episode, it can still be dangerous for our mental and physical health. Hypomanic episodes will still shift to depressive episodes and, in turn, cause those with bipolar disorder to end up in the same loop as their manic counterparts.
Not to mention, people may experience what’s known as a “mixed episode” – when manic and depressive symptoms occur at the same time. According to many professionals, these individuals are most at risk of their mental illness and participating in coping mechanisms that can be dangerous for their mental and physical health. ³
4.) There Are Different Types of Bipolar Disorder
As already mentioned, bipolar disorder symptoms often present themselves in different levels of severity depending on the individual. But did you know there are four unique types of bipolar disorder?
These include: ⁴
- Bipolar I – When manic episodes last for 7 or more days followed by a depressive episode that lasts at least 14 days. Symptoms will present themselves in various severities, but these individuals are always at risk of experiencing “mixed episodes.”
- Bipolar II – This type of bipolar disorder is similar to bipolar I. The key difference is people with bipolar II will experience hypomania rather than full-blown manic episodes associated with bipolar I.
- Cyclothymia – A mild form of bipolar disorder where one experiences hypomania and less severe depression for about 2 years. More often than not, these individuals will have periods where they are symptom-free. The difficulty is beings are periods of high and low are mild, a doctor may misdiagnose or overlook the condition. This is a problem because people with cyclothymia are at risk of developing bipolar I or bipolar II. ⁵
- Unspecified Bipolar and Related Disorder (Other Specified) – When one experiences symptoms similar to bipolar disorder that don’t fit into the above types.
Though these different types of bipolar disorder are ultimately determined by the severity and length of symptoms, there is no fixed range a person may experience. Mental health effects us all differently and, with that, the types of bipolar disorder are merely a way for doctors to understand the right treatment path for you.
5.) We Still Don’t Know What Causes Bipolar Disorder
As with most mental illnesses, scientists still aren’t entirely sure what causes bipolar disorder. However, there are a few key factors that may play a role:
- Brain Structure – When one experiences symptoms of bipolar disorder, certain regions of the brain change. While researchers still don’t have a clear understanding as to how this works, we do know the prefrontal cortex shows abnormal signs in those who struggle with this condition. ⁶
- Environment – Stressful life events may lead to a “trigger” or relapse in bipolar disorder. Not to mention, one’s living arrangements may be fueling bipolar symptoms rather than easing them. ⁷
- Genetics – If someone within your family (especially, your immediate family) has bipolar disorder, you are more at risk of developing it. ⁸
The biggest issue with these causes is researchers aren’t 100% sure how much each plays a role in the development of bipolar disorder.
6.) Bipolar Disorder Often Goes Misdiagnosed
As we’ve discussed above, bipolar disorder often goes misdiagnosed as depression. Being that there is an overlap in symptoms and not everyone presents obvious signs of mania – it can be difficult for a mental health professional to come to a certain diagnosis. Especially if your there is no history of bipolar disorder in your family.
Not to mention, in individuals struggling with bipolar disorder who haven’t been diagnosed, chances are they’re going to reach out for help during a depressive episode rather than a manic or hypomanic episode.
In order to come to a proper diagnosis, a doctor must identify both mania and depression. This will require you to undergo an evaluation and, potentially, some tests. Even in individuals who only present depressive symptoms, a good psychiatrist will be able to identify if you’re experiencing mania as well.
7.) Adolescents and Children are Vulnerable to Bipolar Disorder
While bipolar disorder is most commonly diagnosed in late teenagers and young adults, children and young teens can develop the condition as well. Unfortunately, it’s more difficult to diagnose people of this age group as their symptoms may not match the diagnostic criteria. ⁹
More often than not, children and young teenagers that struggle with bipolar disorder also have a co-occurring mental health condition, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In turn, this makes diagnosing children with the condition all the more difficult.
Not to mention, people of this age group naturally experience a lot emotionally as it is. Growing up and undergoing puberty can be difficult – leaving a lot of adolescents with mixed emotions. In order to truly identify whether or not you or your child has bipolar disorder, it can help to see a specialized child psychiatrist.
8.) Proper Treatment Requires Medication
While some may be led to believe they can cope with symptoms on their own, it can be quite difficult when it comes to bipolar disorder. Medications are often prescribed in order to stabilize an individual’s mood throughout a period of time. Certain medications are prescribed for manic episodes while others are for depressive ones.
There are a few different kinds of medications your doctor will suggest in order to help curb bipolar symptoms: ¹⁰
- Antidepressants – The purpose of an antidepressant is to lower your mood and can help prevent depressive episodes. However, some doctors have found that antidepressants trigger manic episodes and, with that, suggest other medications to be taken alongside them. ¹¹
- Antipsychotics – While these are more commonly prescribed for those with schizophrenia, antipsychotics can work wonders at treating mania (especially, in extreme cases).
- Mood Stabilizers – The most common medication for bipolar disorder is mood stabilizers. These reduce the amount of unusual activity with your brain and are also used as anticonvulsant or antiseizure medications. The most common mood stabilizer is lithium. ¹²
It’s likely a mental health professional will prescribe you more than one type of medication in order to manage both manic and depressive episodes. Finding the best medication and dosage amount can be tricky as the characteristics of bipolar disorder vary from person-to-person. However, the right doctor is likely to find the perfect balance for you.
It’s important to note that women shouldn’t take medication for bipolar disorder if you are pregnant, plan to become pregnant, or lactating. Research has found that these medications can go through the placenta and even make their way into breast milk, increasing the risk of birth defects. ¹³ Not to mention, when anti-epilepsy drugs are mixed with birth control pills, they increase the risk of pregnancy. ¹⁴
9.) Therapy is Almost Essential for Treatment
While medications are effective at reducing symptoms, they don’t do anything to address the underlying issues associated with bipolar disorder. For this reason, treatment is a must in order to overcome symptoms and, eventually, wean yourself off of medication.
Through various forms of psychotherapy, you will be given the opportunity to better understand what triggers your bipolar disorder symptoms. Through this comprehension, you can work towards healthy coping mechanisms that will allow you to go on with day-to-day tasks, uninterrupted. ¹⁵
10.) People with Bipolar Disorder Can Go onto Lead Fulfilling Lives
Before you receive treatment, it’s natural to doubt that things will get better. Everyone who experiences bipolar disorder feels as though they’re stuck in a constant loop that is impossible to mentally break.
However, with the proper treatment, you can get better and go on to lead a fulfilling life. With the right care and time, anyone can overcome this illness. Most importantly, it takes a certain willpower to not only seek out treatment, but to follow through with everything professionals suggest.
We hope you found our 10 bipolar disorder facts insightful. Our goal at Bedlamite is to raise awareness of a variety of mental illnesses and discuss ideas as to how to overcome them.
If you or someone you love is struggling with bipolar disorder, we highly suggest you seek out medical attention as soon as possible. The sooner this illness is identified and treated, the easier it will be to overcome symptoms. If you’d like more information concerning bipolar disorder, we invite you to check out our coverage here.
Still have questions about bipolar disorder facts?
We invite you to ask them in the comment’s section below. If you have any further knowledge to share – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.
¹ National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): Bipolar Disorder
² frontiers in Psychiatry: Hypomania Symptoms Across Psychiatric Disorders
³ Chonnam Medical Journal (CMJ): Mixed States in Bipolar Disorder: Etiology, Pathogenesis and Treatment
⁴ healthdirect: Bipolar disorder
⁵ Current Neuropharmacology (Betham Science Publishers): Diagnosing and Treatment of Cyclothymia: The “Primacy” Temperament
⁶ Dialogues in clinical neuroscience: Cognitive neuroscience and brain imaging in bipolar disorder
⁷ Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology (SAGE): Epidemiology and risk factors for bipolar disorder
⁸ The Application of Clinical Genetics (Dove Press): Genetics of bipolar disorder
⁹ National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): Bipolar Disorder in Children and Teens
¹⁰ Lancet (HHS Public Access): Treatment of bipolar disorder
¹² National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): Mood Stabilizing Medications an Effective Option for Older Adults with Bipolar Disorder
¹³ Indian Journal of Psychiatry (Wolters Kluwer): Mood stabilizers in pregnancy and lactation
¹⁴ The Mental Health Clinician (mhc): Medication management of bipolar disorder during the reproductive years
¹⁵ Agency of Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ): Treatment of Bipolar Disorder in Adults: A Systematic Review