Over the years there have been many misconceptions about what bipolar disorder is, what the symptoms are, and how it is treated. Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. A person who has “mood swings” does not automatically qualify them for a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. The characteristics of bipolar disorder are significant shifts in mood that go from manic episodes to deep depressive episodes in waves and valleys that never end. Nearly 2% of Americans have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, more commonly known as manic depression. Scientists are constantly studying the possible causes of bipolar disorder. Most scientists agree that there is not one single cause, but is caused by a combination of biological and environmental factors. Even though it has not been proven that bipolar disorder is hereditary, it does tend to run in families. Children with a parent or sibling who has bipolar disorder are much more likely to develop the illness, compared with children who do not have a family history. Bipolar patients are more likely to use mind altering drugs to try and self-medicate therefore making diagnosis a harder process. “Doctors diagnose bipolar disorder using guidelines from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV). To be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, the symptoms must be a major change from your normal mood or behavior” (Youngstrom, E., 2012, October 23). Below is a chart demonstrating the different mood changes and behavioral changes between a manic and depressive episode.
It was once thought that there were only two types of bipolar disorder, but now the disease has been broken down even further into several different disorders. Bipolar I disorder is the most severe form of the illness with extreme manic or mixed episodes that last at least a week. “Bipolar I disorder is characterized by at least one manic episode during your lifetime. Usually there are depressive episodes as well that last two weeks, however you do not need to have a history of depression to be diagnosed with bipolar I disorder. Bipolar II disorder is defined by experiencing both a hypo-manic and a depressive episode. To meet the criteria for bipolar II, a previous episode of depression is necessary, along with symptoms of less intense mania lasting at least four days” (Caponigro, J., Lee, E., Johnson, S., & Kring, A., 2012). Cyclothymia is defined by a pattern of chronic and frequent mood changes. These mood changes are not as extreme as those experienced in manic episodes. The diagnosis is based off of how much of the time some type of changed move is present. Most people diagnosed with Cyclothymia tend to feel very “up” or very “down” at least half of the time. This diagnosis is not considered until those mood fluctuations have continued for a very long time: generally one year for adolescents and over two years for adults. These episodes must last for at least two years without more than two months of a stable mood during that time to qualify for this diagnosis. Bipolar NOS or not otherwise specified is the diagnosis that covers forms of bipolar that don’t fall into any of the other categories. The mood episodes are extreme enough to be classified as manic, hypomanic, or depressive but do not meet the duration requirements for bipolar I, bipolar II, or cyclothymic diagnosis. Bipolar disorder cannot be cured, but it can be treated effectively long-term. Because it is a lifelong illness, long-term treatment is essential to control symptoms. It is essential to receive the correct diagnosis to receive the most effective treatment. Medication is the most effective treatment for managing symptoms of bipolar disorder and extending periods of mental...
References: Caponigro, J., Lee, E., Johnson, S., & Kring, A., (2012). Bipolar Disorder: A Guide for the Newly Diagnosed. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Fink, C., & Kraynak, J., (2013). Bipolar Disorder for Dummies 2nd Edition. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Youngstrom, E., (2012, October 23). Myths and Realities about Bipolar Disorders. Retrieved from
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