Bipolar disorder is an often misunderstood condition that’s poorly portrayed on television. You might have heard someone say “stop acting bipolar” without knowing the meaning of it. According to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), bipolar disorder affects approximately 5.7 million adults in the United States, translating to 2.6 percent of the total population over the age of 18. Twenty-five is the median age for the onset of bipolar disorder. However, it can show up in early childhood or as late as your 40s and 50s.
Bipolar disorder doesn’t discriminate, and it affects an equal number of men and women. The condition is found in all races, ages, social classes, and ethnic groups. More than two-thirds of those with the disorder have at least one close relative with unipolar depression or the illness, meaning it has a heritable component.
Bipolar disorder is considered the sixth leading cause of disability globally, and the illness results in 9.2 years of reduction in expected life span since one in five individuals with bipolar disorder will complete a suicide attempt.
Since bipolar disorder is a misunderstood condition, it’s vital to understand how it can affect you. For example, it’s much more complicated than shifting from happy to sad sporadically, and someone with the illness will experience manic episodes that alter their views of reality. Let’s delve into bipolar disorder and get a grasp of how manic episodes work with the disorder.
Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression or manic-depressive illness, is a mental health condition that causes unusual shifts in energy, mood, concentration, activity levels, and the ability to carry out daily tasks.
There are three different types of bipolar disorder, and all three include evident changes in activity levels, energy, and mood. The moods can vary from periods of extreme irritability, elation, or energized behavior (known as manic episodes), to “downs” where the person feels hopeless or indifferent (depressive episodes). Less severe attacks are known as hypomanic.
In some cases, a person might experience symptoms of the condition that don’t match the three categories we’ve discussed above. This is referred to as “other specified and unspecified bipolar and related disorders.”
Mania and hypomania are periods of excited and over-active behavior that can significantly impact your daily life. Mania is a more severe form that lasts a week or more, while hypomania is a milder version of mania that lasts for a much shorter time, typically a few days.
Some individuals find mania and hypomania enjoyable because it’s a period where they’re creative and filled with ideas, while others find it highly uncomfortable, unpleasant, or distressing. Artist Kanye West is famously quoted as saying, “I hate being bipolar, it’s awesome,” which speaks to the love/hate relationship individuals with the illness might face.
Mania typically lasts for a week or more, and it will have a severe adverse impact on your ability to conduct daily activities, which can disrupt or stop them completely. Severe mania has the potential to be serious and usually requires treatment in the hospital.
The following is is how someone might feel who is going through a manic episode, including:
A person going through a manic episode might behave in the following way:
After a manic episode, a person may experience the following:
Hypomania lasts less time and is more manageable than mania. However, it can still have a devastating effect on your life and those around you. With hypomania, you might be able to move forward with your daily activities without them being affected as severely as with mania.
During a hypomanic episode, you may feel like the following:
Your behavior may resemble the following:
In many cases, people who have bipolar disorder and haven’t been diagnosed by a doctor will turn to drugs or alcohol to “self-medicate.” They don’t understand why they feel this way, and drugs or alcohol numb the pain and help them feel a sense of normalcy. Unfortunately, while this may be a feasible solution in the short term, abusing drugs or alcohol can lead to addiction, which can be fatal. Not to mention, drugs and alcohol can also exacerbate the symptoms of bipolar disorder and lead to bizarre behavior.
If you’re concerned about a friend or loved one who’s exhibiting bizarre behavior, understanding the symptoms of bipolar disorder and getting a diagnosis early on can help immensely in the long term.
If you’re someone who’s struggling, you should always be upfront and honest about what you’re experiencing. If you go to treatment for drugs and alcohol to get sober but don’t treat the underlying causes of what contributed to your addiction, you’ll likely relapse when you leave treatment because you didn’t get a co-occurring disorder diagnosis. The same intense symptoms that led to addiction will persist and lead to a devastating cycle of getting help and relapse.
The most common signs of bipolar disorder include the following:
If you’ve had thoughts or plans to commit suicide, just remember that you’re not alone, and there is always someone willing to listen and offer help. If you need somebody to lean on, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255. Remember, things will get better. If this is an emergency and you’re planning to commit suicide, please call 911 immediately for medical care.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (N.D.) National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. from https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
DBSA (April 2021) Bipolar Disorder Statistics. from https://www.dbsalliance.org/education/bipolar-disorder/bipolar-disorder-statistics/
NIMH (April 2021) Substance Use and Co-Occurring Mental Disorders. from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/substance-use-and-mental-health/index.shtml
NIMH (April 2021) Bipolar Disorders. from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/bipolar-disorder/index.shtml
NIDA (April 2021) Drug Misuse and Addiction. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/drug-misuse-addiction