Bipolar Disorder formally known as ‘Manic Depression’ is a mental illness, a ‘mood disorder’ in fact, characterised by extreme high’s called “hypomania’s” and “mania’s” and extreme lows called “depressions”.
Of course we all experience changes in emotion and mood, that is part of what makes us wonderful, interesting and human! A person with Bipolar Disorder will feel happiness and sadness just like anyone else would, but where Bipolar Disorder differs to normal emotional fluctuations, is that moods will reach extreme states, at times happiness may extend into extreme uninhibited euphorias or “mania’s” or alternatively sadness may develop into a deep suicidal depression, sometimes people will experience “mixed episodes” which includes simultaneously experiencing a depressive thought process such as suicidal ideation along with intense impulsivity and energy levels experienced in mania. All of these fluctuations in mood can happen with or without any specific triggers and may mood symptoms generally last anywhere from several days to months although this can vary in different types of the disorder.
The mood swings of Bipolar Disorder come and go in ‘episodes’ with periods of wellness and normal functioning in between them often lasting several months, sometimes even years. A Bipolar episode will often interfere with performance ability at work, it may affect friendships, relationships and make general daily living quite difficult. If the symptoms of the episode are severe enough people may require periods of hospitalisation in a psychiatric unit.
It is much harder, if not impossible, for a person experiencing Bipolar mood swings to effectively control these symptoms without help. Bipolar is not a curable illness and symptom severity and type varies from person to person but many people find that their conditions can be quite manageable with the help of medications, therapy and long term lifestyle changes.
Developing a high level of self awareness will help a person with Bipolar Disorder anticipate the onset of mood episodes, but this won’t happen overnight and usually only comes from past experience and extensive therapy.
There are three sub types:
Bipolar 1: Episodes of depression and full blown mania sometimes with psychotic features, severely impairs ability to work or function.
Bipolar 2: Episodes of depression and hypomania – psychotic features are very uncommon, interferes with daily ability to function. Episodes of depression tend to be more frequent than episodes of mania.
Cyclothymia: Cyclical swings between mild depression and mild mood elevation that does not impair with daily functioning.
There are also versions on a theme such as “Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder” which is where a person diagnosed with Bipolar 1 or 2 experiences more than four distinct mood episodes during a 12 month period or “Ultradian Cycling Bipolar Disorder” where the patient may experience multiple extreme mood shifts throughout a single day.