Perhaps you have days or weeks where you feel tremendously energetic. Your appetite for food, drink, exercise, sex, etc., tends to excess. You sleep little, talk a lot, and your mind runs wild. You feel powerful and capable, or perhaps irritated and tightly wound, all at the same time. Eventually, you crash from this elation, and when you do, you lose all interest in things that once engaged you. You feel listless, have little to say, struggle to sleep and focus, and grapple with feelings of worthless or fight thoughts of self-harm.
Such are the classic manic-depressive symptoms of bipolar disorder, a mental health syndrome that affects nearly 3% of the U.S. population. The exact cause of bipolar disorder is unknown. Genetics play a part, but so can stress and the onset of life-altering events. Most doctors believe the root of bipolar disorder is a chemical imbalance in the brain that affects the neurotransmitters responsible for mood, energy, and activity levels.
Because Bipolar Disorder shares many common symptoms with other mental health disorders like depression, it is one of the more difficult disorders to diagnose. The most common sub-types are called Bipolar I and Bipolar II.
- Bipolar I is defined by manic episodes for which the behavior is sustained all day, all through the length of the episode. People suffering from Bipolar I may also experience depressive episodes, but they aren’t central to the diagnosis.
- The more common sub-type, Bipolar II, involves depressive symptoms and much less severe manic ones. The fact that the swings in the cycle are more muted often means the close friends and family of the sufferer notice the behaviors, rather than the sufferer his- or herself.
There are treatments for bipolar disorder. These most commonly include dialectical or cognitive behavioral therapy along with medication. Since every patient is as unique as their symptoms, it may take a little time to find the right medications that work best for you. They won’t cure the disorder, but they will help you keep your moods less volatile so you can live a more balanced and stable life.