Bipolar Disorder

  Bipolar disorder is the medical name for manic depression. The terms may be used interchangeably. Bipolar disorder is a mental illness, but it is more appropriately described as a neurobiological brain disorder involving extremes in mood. It is one of the three major affective (mood) disorders. The other two affective disorders are unipolar disorder (depression only) and schizoaffective disorder. Most medical researchers believe that bipolar disorder is genetic.

Some people have mild manias, called hypomanias, and others have wild manias. Some people have depressions which are deep, awful, and long-lasting. Others may have brief depressions. Still others have a sort of a "physical" depression or physical pain, with flattened or non-existent emotions. And sometimes (not always) a person with bipolar disorder may have accompanying psychotic features such as delusions and/or hallucinations.

People without bipolar disorder seem to think that hypomania and mania sound like fun. After all, most of the definitions in books say that mania is a euphoric or "high" state. It is true that mild hypomania may be fun, because it is so energizing and may lead to a period of highly productive activity. But in actuality, both mania and hypomania may also be dysphoric. Dysphoria implies agitation, anxiety, uncontrollable rage, or self-destructive feelings. Sometimes mania and depression happen at the same time. These are called mixed states.

Suicide and Bipolar Disorder

About 1% of the world's population is thought to have some form of bipolar disorder, from mild to severe. Statistically, men and women are equally represented. Approximately 1 in 5 people with bipolar disorder eventually commit suicide (Goodwin and Jamison, Manic Depressive Illness, p. 228). This is 30 times higher than the general population! And 20-50% of people with bipolar disorder attempt suicide at least once.

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