Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that causes extreme, unusual shifts in energy, mood, and activity levels. These changes can be extremely intense and make it hard to carry out day-to-day tasks.
If left untreated, bipolar disorder can lead to problems with work, school, and relationships. It can also lead to an increased risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
Main Types of Bipolar Disorder
There are four main types of bipolar disorder, as listed below:
Bipolar I Disorder
A person is said to have Bipolar I disorder if they experience severe manic episodes that last for at least seven days. In some cases, the manic episodes become so intense that they require hospitalization. Depressive episodes may also be present but are not necessary for diagnosis.
Bipolar II Disorder
Bipolar II disorder is similar to bipolar I disorder, but the manic episodes are less severe. These are called hypomanic episodes. People with bipolar II disorder may also experience more severe depressive episodes than those with bipolar I disorder.
Cyclothymic disorder, or cyclothymia, is a milder form of bipolar disorder. People with cyclothymic disorder experience hypomanic and depressive episodes, but these episodes are not as severe as those seen in bipolar I or II disorders. However, these episodes may be more frequent and can last for up to two years. In some cases, cyclothymia can develop into bipolar I or bipolar II disorder.
Unspecified Bipolar/Related Disorders
Unspecified bipolar is a term used when a person experiences symptoms similar to bipolar disorder that do not meet the criteria for any of the above categories. Conditions that fall under this category include mixed state bipolar, rapid cycling bipolar, and bipolar with psychotic features.
Causes of Bipolar Disorder
There is no single cause for bipolar disorder. However, scientists have linked it to a combination of several factors, including genetics, social stressors, and psychological elements.
Genetics: Bipolar disorder seems to run in families, suggesting an inheritable genetic component to the condition. However, not everyone with a family history of bipolar disorder will develop the condition. This indicates that other factors must also be at play.
Brain Chemistry: Changes in the way the brain functions may play a role in bipolar disorder. For instance, people with bipolar disorder tend to have lower levels of certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine. Brain scans of people with bipolar disorder have also revealed notable differences in the size and activity of some regions of the brain when compared to healthy individuals.
Excessive Stress: Stressful life events, such as the death of a loved one, chronic illness, or financial troubles, can trigger bipolar disorder.
Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
The symptoms of bipolar disorder can vary depending on the episode of the illness.
During a manic episode, people with bipolar disorder may:
- Feel overly happy or “high”
- Have a lot of energy
- Be more active than usual
- Talk more quickly than usual
- Feel like their thoughts are racing
- Be easily distracted
- Make impulsive decisions, such as spending sprees
- Engage in risky behaviors, such as substance abuse or unsafe sex
During a depressive phase, people with bipolar disorder may:
- Feel sad or hopeless
- Lose interest in activities they once enjoyed
- Sleep too much or have trouble sleeping
- Experience fatigue or low energy
- Have difficulty concentrating
- Have thoughts of death or suicide
The symptoms of bipolar disorder can also vary in severity. Some people may only experience mild episodes, while others may have more severe episodes that require hospitalization.
Bipolar Disorder in Children and Adolescents
The symptoms of bipolar disorder in children and adolescents can be hard to distinguish from the ups and downs of childhood and adolescence.
It’s important to look for patterns in a child or teen’s behavior to determine if they may be experiencing more than just usual developmental tantrums or teenage moodiness.
Signs that a child or adolescent may have bipolar disorder include:
- Prolonged irritability or anger
- Extreme hopelessness, sadness, or anxiety
- Unusually lofty thinking or grandiose ideas
- Increased talking or pressured speech
- Decreased need for sleep without feeling tired
- Hyperactivity or restlessness
- Reckless or risky behavior
Bipolar disorder is a complex mental illness that can be difficult to manage. However, with the right treatment, many people with bipolar disorder will go on to lead happy and healthy lives.
If you think you or someone close to you may be struggling with bipolar disorder, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. A qualified mental health provider can provide you with a proper diagnosis and develop a treatment plan to help manage the symptoms.