Bipolar Disorder

Savannah York

What is Bipolar Disorder (BP)?

Bipolar disorder is also known as manic depressive disorder. It causes an abnormal shift in mood, energy, activity level, and ability to participate in daily tasks. Scientists do not know the precise cause of bipolar disorder but it has been narrowed down to genetics and brain anatomy/function. Bipolar disorder has been noted to consistently run in families but is also caused by a chemical imbalance of neurotransmitters within the brain.
People with bipolar disorder have symptoms of the two types of mood episodes: manic episodes and depressive episodes. Symptoms of manic episodes include an extended period of a “high” feeling, or a feeilng of extreme happiness. Behavioral symptoms of a manic episode include talking really fast, being distracted easily, being restless and sleeping little to not at all. Symptoms of a depressive episode include an extended period of sadness or hopelessness. Behavioral symptoms of a depressive episode include feeling tired, having trouble concentrating, being irritable, and having suicidal thoughts.
In order to diagnose BP, a patient must fall into one of the four basic types of bipolar disorder. Each of the four types have different criteria for diagnosis.

Bipolar Disorder I

Bipolar I is characterized by having manic or mixed episodes (having depressive and manic episodes everyday for a minimum of 7 days) and having one extreme depressive episode. BP-I is the most severe from of the disorder due to the extreme nature of the manic episodes.

Bipolar Disorder II

Bipolar Disorder II is described by having a mix of depressive episodes and hypomania. These hypomanias are not as extreme as the manias present in BP-I. Bipolar II is diagnosed after after at least one major depressive episode and at least one episode of hypomania. BP-II is often misdiagnosed for major depression because hypomania goes unrecognized.

Bipolar Disorder Not Otherwise Specified

Bipolar Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (BP-NOS) is diagnosed typically when symptoms of the illness are present but do not align with the criteria for BP-I or BP-II.

Cyclothymic Disorder

Cyclothymic Disorder is a milder form of bipolar disorder in which people have episodes of mild depression and hypomania for at least 2 years. These symptoms do not meet the requirements for any other type of BP.
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Bipolar Disorder is often considered a rare mental illness, but this is not accurate. BP of any type affects approximately 5.7 million American adults, which is about 2.6% of the population over 18 years of age.

How does a person get Bipolar Disorder?

Biological factors that influence BP are a persons genetics and family history. A person who has a relative diagnosed with bipolar disorder has a 15-25% chance of getting the disorder. Environmental factors such as altered health habits, alcohol or drug abuse, or hormonal problems can trigger bipolar disorder.

What's going wrong?

BP is caused by a dysfunction of particular neurotransmitters in the brain. Norepinephrine and serotonin have been consistently linked to mental illness such as depression and bipolar disorder. Dopamine is also thought to contribute to bipolar disorder because it affects sleep, wakefulness, impulsivity, and learning.


The picture above demonstrates a normally functioning brain compared to a brain with bipolar disorder. The brain with BP shows highly increased activity in the emotional regulation centers.

Can we treat it?

The current treatment for bipolar disorder involves three types of medication: mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, and antidepressants. The mood stabilizers often include lithium carbonate and valporic acid. Nondrug treatments include psychotherapy and, in extreme cases, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). The mood stabilizers utilize lithium, which has been extremely successful in managing manic and depressive episodes but scientists are not sure how it is able to be so successful. Psychotherapy does not help the chemical balance of the neurotransmitters but does help the mental state of patients. ECT is used for extreme cases or for potentially suicidal patients because it is fast. The patient is first anesthetized and given a muscle relaxer. A small electric wave is passed through the patient in order to induce a grand mal seizure. This seizure will last less than a minute.
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How does having Bipolar Disorder affect daily life?

Bipolar Disorder is viewed through different perspectives depending on who is suffering from it. Some view it as a disorder where nothing is the same and the day is unpredictable, while some view it as a day to day adventure. Living with bipolar disorder comes with two sides: one is a sense of euphoria and being invincible and the other is a feeling of sadness and hopelessness. The euphoria is said to be beautiful, a time where everything is seen through rose colored glasses and artistry and creativity are at an all time high. The depression is an extreme contrast to the euphoria and can be so bad as to lead to suicidal thoughts. A home environment would be especially tense because family members would never know if the day was a good day, a bad day, or a really bad day.
Famous people who have been diagnosed with BP include Demi Lovato, Russell Brand, Carrie Fisher, Chris Brown, Brittany Spears, and Jim Carrey.
works cited:

"Bipolar Disorder." NIMH RSS. National Institute of Mental Helath, n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2016.

Krans, Brian. "In Their Shoes: Understanding What Bipolar Disorder Feels Like." Healthline. Healthline Media, 4 Jan. 2012. Web. 17 Feb. 2016.