- Psychological Issues
bipolar disorder–which is also known as manic-depressive illness and will be called by both names throughout this publication–is a mental illness involving episodes of serious mania and depression. The person’s mood usually swings from overly “high” and irritable to sad and hopeless, and then back again, with periods of normal mood in between.
bipolar disorder typically begins in adolescence or early adulthood and continues throughout life. It is often not recognized as an illness, and people who have it may suffer needlessly for years or even decades.
Effective treatments are available that greatly alleviate the suffering caused by bipolar disorder and can usually prevent its devastating complications. These include marital break-ups, job loss, alcohol and drug abuse, and suicide.
Here are some facts about bipolar disorder.
Signs and symptoms of mania include discrete periods of:
Signs and symptoms of depression include discrete periods of:
It may be helpful to think of the various mood states in manic-depressive illness as a spectrum or continuous range. At one end is severe depression, which shades into moderate depression; then come mild and brief mood disturbances that many people call “the blues,” then normal mood, then hypomania (a mild form of mania), and then mania.
Some people with untreated bipolar disorder have repeated depressions and only an occasional episode of hypomania (bipolar II). In the other extreme, mania may be the main problem and depression may occur only infrequently. In fact, symptoms of mania and depression may be mixed together in a single “mixed” bipolar state.
Descriptions provided by patients themselves offer valuable insights into the various mood states associated with bipolar disorder:
I doubt completely my ability to do anything well. It seems as though my mind has slowed down and burned out to the point of being virtually useless….[I am] haunt[ed]…with the total, the desperate hopelessness of it all… Others say, “It’s only temporary, it will pass, you will get over it,” but of course they haven’t any idea of how I feel, although they are certain they do. If I can’t feel, move, think, or care, then what on earth is the point?
At first when I’m high, it’s tremendous…ideas are fast…like shooting stars you follow until brighter ones appear…all shyness disappears, the right words and gestures are suddenly there…uninteresting people, things, become intensely interesting. Sensuality is pervasive, the desire to seduce and be seduced is irresistible. Your marrow is infused with unbelievable feelings of ease, power, well-being, omnipotence, euphoria…you can do anything…but, somewhere this changes.
The fast ideas become too fast and there are far too many…overwhelming confusion replaces clarity…you stop keeping up with it–memory goes. Infectious humor ceases to amuse. Your friends become frightened…everything is now against the grain…you are irritable, angry, frightened, uncontrollable, and trapped.
Recognition of the various mood states is essential so that the person who has manic-depressive illness can obtain effective treatment and avoid the harmful consequences of the disease, which include destruction of personal relationships, loss of employment, and suicide.