Today I want to provide some basics facts about bipolar disorder, giving ten facts as a basic starting point. From here I will be continuing this into some more factual based posts over the coming month, about various aspects of the disorder in more detail.
1. Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder
Bipolar disorder is a life long mental illness. The disorder involves shifts in mood that swing between two poles, from severe depression up to mania or hypomania.
2. Depression is more than just feeling sad
Depressive moods are low moods but it’s not just sadness, there are far more symptoms involved than that. Depressive symptoms include fatigue, to the point where it’s hard to function at all sometimes and so along with this comes decreased functioning or activity levels; changes in sleeping patterns are common; feelings of despair and hopelessness; some people may experience self-harm and suicidal ideation or actions; trouble keeping up with daily tasks; trouble concentrating and focusing on things, among so much more. A post going into detail about depressive episodes is coming soon.
3. Mania or hypomania is more than just feeling happy
Mania is categorized as a very elevated mood; hypomania is a less severe form of mania but shares many of the same symptoms. Mania is not simply feeling happy, symptoms include racing thoughts; speaking very fast; making grand plans; having lots of energy; increased activity levels; sleeping very little; engaging in risky behaviour and potentially psychosis among just a few. Mania, hypomania, and psychosis are something I will go into in more detail in a later post.
4. Bipolar disorder is not rare
The disorder is far from rare; in fact, 1 in 100 people are likely to experience bipolar symptoms at some stage of their life.
5. There are four types of bipolar
Bipolar is a complex disorder and there are in fact four different types of the disorder. Bipolar one involves moods that swing from depression to full-blown mania. Bipolar two, which I have, involves moods that swing from severe depression to hypomania, a less severe form of mania. Cyclothymia shares very similar symptoms to those of bipolar one and two, but to a less severe extent. Finally, we have none otherwise specified and related bipolar disorders, which means that bipolar symptoms are present but they do not fit in with any of the previous categories mentioned.
6. Mixed episodes are possible
Mixed episodes are a mix of both depressive and manic or hypomanic symptoms, and can be very distressing. They can happen in anyone with bipolar and are actually fairly common to have experienced at least once if you have the disorder. One example of how you may experience both depressive and manic symptoms at once is that you may have a very low mood, but instead of feeling lacking in energy, you feel full of energy, very agitated, anxious and confused.
7. Rapid cycling can occur
Rapid cycling is when your moods swing between the two extremes at a much quicker pace, far more regularly to the point where your mood state can change between days or even hours depending on the person. More research is still being done into rapid cycling and whether this is a separate type of bipolar disorder.
8. It takes a long time to be diagnosed
On average it takes over ten years to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder and I imagine for a lot of people, myself included, it takes even longer. It can take a long time to be taken seriously by professionals and even when you are, it’s a long journey of being monitored and assessed before they will be sure of a diagnosis.
9. It is often misdiagnosed
It’s really common to be given multiple wrong diagnoses before you get the right one of bipolar. Some of the symptoms can mirror other mental illnesses and often you may have other comorbid conditions alongside bipolar which can make things even more confusing.
10. What causes bipolar is unknown
As of yet there is no definitive answer as to what causes bipolar but there are factors that can make it more likely that it will occur and that contribute in part to having the disorder. These include genetic factors, you are more likely to have the disorder if someone in your family has it; trauma in childhood can be a big factor and trauma or stressful life events at any stage in your life can influence the start of symptoms. Research is still ongoing in relation to the chemistry of the brain and the root cause of the disorder.
The National Institue of Mental Health, “Bipolar Disorder”, Retrieved July 2019 from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/bipolar-disorder/index.shtml
Mind (2013), “Bipolar Disorder”, Retrieved July 2019 from https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/bipolar-disorder/causes/#.XUAVXuhKiM8
Bipolar UK, “The Facts”, Retrieved July 2019 from https://www.bipolaruk.org/faqs/bipolar-the-facts