Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorderCelebrities from Catherine Zeta-Jones to Lady Gaga have publicly admitted to suffering from bipolar disorder which is today’s latest mental health buzzword. As bipolar disorder often worsens if not treated, HEALTH takes a closer look at the symptoms and how to get help.

The Signs

Bipolar affective disorder is when there are periods where your mood is in one extreme or another. We all have mood swings but with bipolar disorder, these ups and downs are intense. According to Clinical Psychologist Devika Singh-Mankani, bipolar disorder causes dramatic mood swings from overly high and/or irritable to sad and hopeless, and then back again, often with periods of normal mood in between. “Severe changes in energy and behavior go along with these changes in mood and the periods of highs and lows are called episodes of mania and depression,” she says. “Besides increased energy, activity, and restlessness, there may also be excessively high, overly good, euphoric mood and extreme irritability.”

Different Types

There are four different classifications for the diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Bipolar I disorder, explains Singh- Mankani, is characterized by manic episodes, the ‘high’ of the manic-depressive cycle. “Manic episodes manifest in feelings of self-importance, elation, talkativeness, increased sociability, and a desire to embark on goal-oriented activities, coupled with the characteristics of irritability, impatience, impulsiveness, hyperactivity, and a decreased need for sleep,” she tells which is followed by a period of depression, although a few Bipolar I individuals may not experience a major depressive episode.

Bipolar II disorder, continues Singh-Mankani, is characterized by major depressive episodes alternating with episodes of hypomania, a milder form of mania. “Bipolar depression may be difficult to distinguish from unipolar depression, which is depression without mania,” she says. “Another is cyclothymia, which refers to the cycling of hypo manic episodes with depression that does not reach major depressive proportions.” And Bipolar Not Otherwise Specified (NOS) is a category for bipolar states that do not clearly fit into the Bipolar I, II, or Cyclothymia diagnoses.


A manic episode is diagnosed if elevated mood occurs with three or more of the other symptoms most of the day, nearly every day, for one week or longer, points out Singh-Mankani. “If the mood is irritable, four additional symptoms must be
present,” she says. “The symptoms of a depressive episode include a lasting sad, anxious, or empty mood, feelings of hopelessness or pessimism, feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness, and/or loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed.


Most people with bipolar disorder, even those with the most severe forms, can achieve substantial stabilization of their mood swings and related symptoms with proper treatment. An effective strategy combines medication and psychosocial
treatment or therapy and is optimal for managing the disorder over time.

Helping a Loved One with Bipolar Disorder

  • Keep in mind that bipolar disorder is a real illness, as real as diabetes or asthma. It is not caused by anything you or your family member did.
  • Don’t ask the person to “snap out of it.” Your friend or family member can’t snap out of this illness any more than he or she could overcome diabetes, asthma, cancer or high blood pressure without treatment.
  • Educate yourself about your loved one’s illness, its symptoms, and its treatments. • Give unconditional love and support. Offer reassurance and hope for the future.
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