Mental health authorities estimate that more than two million youths have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Also often referred to as manic depression, the disorder is a chemical imbalance in the brain causing severe mood swings from manic highs to agonizing lows. Although a diagnosis of bipolar disorder can be frightening and confusing, it is a treatable and manageable condition.
If you or someone close to you has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, the first step in relieving any associated fear and uncertainty is education. The more you know about the disorder, the less anxiety it will cause for you and others who may be affected.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), and The National Mental Health Association (MHA) are just a few of the recognized national organizations providing information, facts and support to anyone who may be directly or indirectly affected by bipolar disorder.
Below are some essential facts about bipolar disorder provided by these organizations that may answer your questions and alleviate some of your concerns surrounding a recent diagnosis.
1. It Affects Many People
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), bipolar disorder affects approximately 2.3 million adults, or 1.2 percent of the population, in any given year.
2. It Has Many Potential Causes
There does not appear to be one singular cause for bipolar disorder. Evidence suggests that many factors may come into play, all of which affect the chemical balance of certain parts of the brain. Several studies on the occurrence of bipolar disorder in families demonstrate a genetic disposition toward the illness. Other factors may include extremely traumatic life events, chronic illness, alcoholism and drug abuse.
3. It Has Varied Symptoms
The most pronounced symptoms of bipolar disorder are dramatic mood swings consisting of extremely “high” manic episodes to debilitating episodes of depression and then back again, with relatively normal moods in between. Behaviors during a manic episode include heightened feelings of euphoria, extreme energy, decreased need for sleep, extreme irritability and distractibility and increased aggression. Depressive episodes bring about excessive feelings of despair, hopelessness, worthlessness, guilt and sometimes thoughts of suicide.
4. It Affects Both Sexes, Children and Adults
Bipolar disorder and manic depression are not selective. Women and men are equally affected, as are children and adolescents (although a diagnosis in children and teens is more difficult to determine). A majority of those diagnosed with bipolar disorder have at least one family member with the illness. And children of parents with the illness are more likely to develop it themselves.
5. It Has Effective Treatment Modalities
Bipolar disorder is primarily treated with medications, called mood stabilizers, to assist in controlling mood fluctuations. The important thing to understand about bipolar disorder is that it is a life-long, recurring illness requiring ongoing care. In addition to medication, psychotherapy is also prescribed to help manage the illness. Psychotherapy assists people in understanding their illness and in developing coping skills to help deal with life events and stressors that may trigger manic and depressive episodes.
6. It Has No Cure
As of today, there is no known cure for bipolar disorder. However, as long as care is taken to get a proper diagnosis, an ongoing care relationship with a mental health professional is established, and medications and prescribed treatment plans are adhered to, most individuals with bipolar illness lead very productive and rewarding lives.
Bipolar disorder is a complex illness, but it is manageable and treatable. If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, do not hesitate to seek information and help. The organizations mentioned above can also give you education, guidance and support. Obtaining knowledge is one of your first steps in alleviating the uncertainty and anxiety of a bipolar disorder diagnosis.