People often describe themselves or others as bipolar when they’re happy one moment and sad the next. As with other mental health issues, the words are overused and often ascribed to regular everyday emotions and experiences.
However, there’s more to bipolar disorders than mood swings. Bipolar disorder is a psychological disorder that’s characterized by periods of extreme depression, manic episodes, and normal moods. Sometimes you may cycle through these episodes throughout a month, a few days, or even in a single 24-hour period.
Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder, which means it affects the way you feel and how your brain regulates your moods. Mental health issues like bipolar disorder are complex, and they can be difficult to diagnose. However, detecting the signs and symptoms early can help you get the treatment you need and to avoid some of the worst consequences of the disorder. But who’s at risk, and when does bipolar disorder start? Learn more about bipolar disorder, who it affects, and when you should look for the signs.
Bipolar disorder is a psychological condition that causes extreme moods that are difficult to regulate. It typically includes depressive and manic episodes with depressive episodes being more common. Bipolar disorder is separated into two subcategories. Bipolar 1 disorder involves at least one manic episode and may or may not involve a major depressive episode. Bipolar 2 disorder involves at least one major depressive episode with no manic episode.
Manic episodes can cause you to feel euphoric, elated, anxious, jumpy, and hungry. It can also cause racing thoughts, the feeling that you don’t need sleep, and delusions of grandeur. In severe cases, manic episodes can manifest as psychosis. For instance, you may have the delusion that there’s a wide-reaching problem that only you can solve. Another common symptom is poor decision-making. It can cause you to feel so self-assured that you quit your job and start planning a trip around the world.
At some point, your mood begins to drop. You may feel normal for a while, or you may go straight into a depressive state. Depressive episodes are typically more common and longer-lasting than manic phases. It can cause you to feel fatigued, sad, apathetic, hopeless, or worthless. It often comes with sleep problems like insomnia or hypersomnia. You may also have trouble concentrating or making decisions.
Bipolar disorder affects about 2.8 percent of adults in the United States, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health. Around 83 percent of those people were severely impaired by the disorder while they rest only experienced moderate impairments.
Men and women experience bipolar disorder at similar rates. It also seems to affect all races and socioeconomic classes at similar rates as well. The disorder can begin at any age, but it’s most common among young adults. According to the National Comorbidity Survey, 18- to 29-year-olds represent the largest group of people that had bipolar disorder in the past year, with 30- to 44-year-olds being the next highest range.
However, the survey only included people 18 years old or older, so adolescents could have high instances of the disorder. Bipolar disorder can occur in children as young as age 6, although it’s rare, and it’s a controversial diagnosis in children. If your child is diagnosed, it’s wise to continually follow up with your medical professionals and get a second opinion. It’s more commonly seen in teens and young adults, and the most common age of onset is 25 years old.
Bipolar disorder also has a strong genetic component. If someone in your family has it, then the risk of you having it go up considerably. You are especially at risk if an immediate family member has it, such as your parents, siblings, or children. However, even if they have it, it doesn’t guarantee you’ll get it. Other risk factors include:
If left untreated, bipolar disorder can also lead to substance use issues, relationship problems, suicidal actions, financial problems, and even physical health problems like heart disease.
If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health disorder that might be related to bipolar disorder, there may be help available. Mental health disorders are often treatable, but if they’re left unaddressed, they often worse one’s health over time. Bipolar disorder can lead to both mental and physical health complications. Insomnia and sleep disturbances can cause long-term health problems like obesity and heart disease. Major depressive episodes can also lead to suicidal thoughts. Bipolar has been shown to increase a person’s suicide risk significantly. To start taking steps toward better mental health today, learn more about bipolar disorder and how it can be treated.
Mayo Clinic. (2018, January 31). Bipolar disorder. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bipolar-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355955
Merikangas, K. R., Akiskal, H. S., Angst, J., Greenberg, P. E., Hirschfeld, R. M. A., Petukhova, M., & Kessler, R. C. (2007, May). Lifetime and 12-month prevalence of bipolar spectrum disorder in the National Comorbidity Survey replication. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17485606
National Institute of Mental Health. (2017, November). Bipolar Disorder. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/bipolar-disorder.shtml
Purse, M. (2019, June 24). Major Depressive Episodes in Bipolar Disorder. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-a-major-depressive-episode-379847
Purse, M. (2019, June 25). When Might a Friend or Family Member Be Experiencing Mania? Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/how-to-recognize-a-manic-or-hypomanic-episode-380316