Bipolar Disorder

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Bipolar Disorder: Finding the Light in the Dark

Affecting nearly one percent of the population of the United States, bipolar disorder has quickly become one of the leading forms of mental illness (Spearing). While advancements in medical science and technology have allowed researchers and physicians to understand its elements more clearly, the effects of bipolar disorder are tragic and often deadly. Often the negative results occur due to a lack of proper diagnosis: some seventy-five percent of bipolar cases go untreated (Spearing). Through proper education and public awareness, this serious disease can be properly diagnosed, treated and possibly cured.

Bipolar disorder, as defined by the Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, is a mood disorder that causes a person to suffer extreme emotional changes and shifts in mood. Previously known as manic-depressive disorder, bipolar disorder causes alternate periods of mania and depression. To fully understand the effects of this disease, it is important to comprehend the meanings of mania and depression. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary defines mania as "excitement manifested by mental and physical hyperactivity, disorganization of behavior, and elevation of mood." Depression, on the other hand, is defined as "a psychiatric disorder characterized by an inability to concentrate, insomnia, loss of appetite, feelings of extreme sadness, guilt, helplessness and hopelessness, and thoughts of death." (Merriam-Webster). The combination of the two results in emotional chaos. Of all psychotic disorders, bipolar disorder is the most common, affecting between one and two million Americans (Spearing). While it affects males and females equally, there are a few distinctions that can be made about those who do have it. Amongst men, early onset bipolar disorder is more frequent while there is higher rate of rapid cycling, mixed states, and cyclothymia in women (Wurztel 28-31). Also, according to one survey, an estimated 59% of bipolar patients experienced their first symptoms when they were children or adolescents (Harakas G2). Studies show that bipolar disorder occurs in 1% of all age groups (Bipolar Survivor). Evanston Northwestern Hospital claims, "There is some indication that the incidence of bipolar disorder may be increasing."

While it is important to understand that bipolar disorder is a disease separate from the numerous other types of mental illnesses, it is also necessary to differentiate between the four different types of the disorder. The first type, Bipolar I, is the most often discussed. People who suffer from this type of bipolar disorder experience extreme periods of mania coupled with depression (Bailey). During the extreme times of mania, Bipolar I patients engage in activities that are exceptionally dangerous and eccentric yet they believe that their actions are normal. Such activities may include spending outrageous amounts of money, investing in business schemes without any research or knowledge of the investment, driving recklessly, and engaging in sexual promiscuity (Bipolar Survivor). Also, during advanced mania, all touch with reality is completely lost resulting in delusions and hallucinations (Bailey). With this type of bipolar disorder, there seems to be an abundant amount of energy with almost a complete lack of sleep (Bailey).

The second, and most common, type of bipolar disorder is known as Bipolar II. With this type, people experience recurrent bouts of depression without the psychotic episodes of mania. Unlike Bipolar I patients, they suffer from brief spells of hypomania during which they feel euphoric and have a great amount of self-confidence and energy (Bailey). While it may appear that hypomania is similar to general happiness, Dr. Hagop S. Akiskal, a senior advisor at the National Institute of Mental Health, states that "hypomania is a recurrent condition; happiness is not" (qtd. in Fireman 1470). Generally, this type of bipolar...
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