Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder, or manic depression, is an illness that causes extreme shifts in mood, energy, and functioning. It is characterized by episodes of mania and depression that can last from days to months. One to 2 percent of Canadian adults have bipolar disorder. Symptoms often emerge in adolescence or early adulthood, and occasionally even in childhood. Most people with this disorder require some sort of lifelong treatment. While medication is one key element in successful treatment, psychotherapy, support, and patient education about the illness are also essential.

What are the symptoms of mania?

“Mania" describes the activated phase of bipolar disorder. The symptoms of mania may include:

  • Either an extremely elated, happy mood or a very irritable, angry, unpleasant mood
  • Dramatically increased physical and mental activity and energy
  • Racing thoughts and flight of ideas
  • Increased talking; more rapid speech than normal
  • Ambitious, often grandiose, and unrealistic plans
  • Risk-taking and impulsive activity, such as spending sprees, sexual indiscretion, and alcohol abuse
  • Decreased sleep without experiencing fatigue
  • Extreme agitation or aggressive behaviour
  • Hypersexuality or sexual disinhibition
  • On occasion, psychotic symptoms including extreme suspiciousness, hallucinations, or delusions, especially of a paranoid or grandiose nature
  • Absence of insight (the person is very often unaware that her/his behaviour is abnormal)

What are the symptoms of depression?

Depression is the other phase of bipolar disorder. The symptoms of depression may include:

  • Loss of energy
  • Prolonged sadness
  • Decreased activity and energy
  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Inability to concentrate or make decisions
  • Increased anxiety
  • Reduced interest/enjoyment or participation in activities normally enjoyed
  • Feelings of guilt and hopelessness
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Change in appetite or sleep (either more or less)

How is bipolar disorder treated?

Bipolar disorder is a treatable and manageable illness. After an accurate diagnosis, most people can achieve an optimal level of wellness. Medication is an essential element of successful treatment for people with bipolar disorder. In addition, psychotherapies—including Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy, interpersonal therapy, and family therapy—are effective components of treatment. Psychoeducational programs are also important to help people understand the illness and learn how to cope with the stresses that can trigger episodes.

Next Up: Anxiety, Panic Disorder and Phobias