First off, if you are reading this, then it's unlikely that you have a severe case of bipolar disorder (a.k.a. "manic depression"), unless you happen to be in a normal mood level right now...
Because according to the NIMH--National Institute of Mental Health--people with bipolar disorder often don't realize they need help...or they assume their condition is due to something else entirely and will fiercely deny needing help.
In any case, here's what we're going to go over in this article:
1. Some background info on bipolar disorder.
2. The sometimes scary symptoms of mania--a "manic" episode.
3. Symptoms of depression--a "depressive" episode.
4. A doctor speaks out about how manic-depression affects her--in her own words. (This is interesting by itself.) 5. What you should do.
6. The good news.
7. Important note on suicide.
Let's get started:
1. Background info: Bipolar disorder is a disease of extremes: A person is known as "bipolar" if he or she switches from an overly-happy mood to an abnormally sad mood within a relatively short period of time.
Bipolar disorder is also known as "manic depressive illness," with the manic episodes being the 'highs' and the depressive episodes being the 'lows.' Either extreme is bad, and can lead to suicide or doing things so extreme as to be a danger to oneself or others.
Serious cases require medication to dampen out the extreme highs and lows. Usually the medications must be taken for years--not just taken when an episode occurs, but daily regardless. (Lithium is the usual mood-stabilizing drug used, although there are several new drugs being tested.)
2. Typical symptoms of someone experiencing mania--a "manic" episode. (According to the NIMH, at least 3 of these symptoms must be present most of each day for one week or more to qualify as mania):
- High energy, restlessness
- Excessively euphoric mood
- Extreme irritability
- Racing thoughts and talking very fast, jumping from one idea to another
- Sleeping very little
- Easily distracted; can't concentrate
- Exercising poor judgment
- Going on spending sprees
- An unrealistic sense of power and invincibility
- Unusual increase in sex drive
- Aggressive, provocative and intrusive behavior
- Abuse of drugs--especially cocaine, alcohol and sleeping pills.
- A denial that anything is wrong.
3. Typical symptoms of someone experiencing depression--a "depressive" episode. (According to the NIMH, at least 5 of these symptoms must be present most of each day for two weeks or more):
- Sad, empty, or anxious mood.
- Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or helplessness.
- Feelings of pessimism and hopelessness.
- Low energy state; extreme fatigue as if moving through molasses.
- Restlessness or irritability.
- Difficulty in making decisions, concentrating, and remembering.
- Abnormal sleep patterns; usually sleeping too much, but also inability to sleep.
- Overeating and weight gain or the opposite.
- Chronic body pains that are inexplicable; no injury caused them.
- Loss of interest or pleasure in things once enjoyed, including sex.
- Thoughts of suicide or death.
4. Quote from Dr. Kay Redfield:
"Manic-depression distorts moods and thoughts, incites dreadful behaviors, destroys the basis of rational thought, and too often erodes the desire and will to live. It is an illness that is biological in its origins, yet one that feels psychological in the experience of it; an illness that is unique in conferring advantage and pleasure, yet one that brings in its wake almost unendurable suffering and, not infrequently, suicide. "I am fortunate that I have not died from my illness, fortunate in having received the best medical care available, and fortunate in having the friends, colleagues, and family that I do." -Kay Redfield Jamison, Ph.D., "An Unquiet Mind," 1995, page 6, Random House
5. What you should do:
O.K., so you've gone down the list of symptoms. And according to the NIMH rules for frequency and duration, you think you have the classic symptoms of bipolar disorder. Now what?
You should see a health professional immediately, if not sooner. Here's why:
Because if you DO have a severe case of manic depression, then obviously your condition is in "remission" for now, and you are able to actually do something about it. Or if you have a milder case, you should still see a doctor who is trained in treating bipolar disorder anyway...
Because like diabetes or heart disease, true manic depression requires a lifelong treatment plan; the disease is never really "cured," but controlled. But you can still live a completely normal, happy life with the right treatment and a desire to be well.
6. The good news:
Just the fact that you are seeking information on the subject is a good sign, and bodes well for your treatment and recovery. If you are seeking information on bipolar disorder for someone you know or love, get them help as soon as possible. (You are doing a wonderful thing--thank you!!)
7. Important note on suicide:
People with symptoms of bipolar disorder are often suicidal. If you are feeling suicidal or know someone who is, call 911 or a doctor immediately. Do not allow yourself or the suicidal person to be left alone. And make darn sure that there is no access to instruments of suicide--like guns, medication, and so forth.