July 18, 2006
Bipolar Disorder or Manic Depression
David Prescott, PhD.
Famous People with Bipolar Disorder: Artist Vincent Van Gogh; performers Carrie Fisher, Dick Cavett, Margot Kidder, and Patty Duke; author Viginia Woolf. All of these well known personalities have, or are thought to have had, bipolar disorder. Also called “manic depression,” this disorder involves wide fluctuations in mood, energy and activity level that seriously disrupt normal functioning. People with bipolar disorder may experience periods of time where they are creative, driven, and highly energetic. However, in spite of such periods of productivity, the disorder typically causes significant strain on relationships, families, and careers.
Characteristics of People with Bipolar Disorder: Bipolar disorder is thought to affect about 1 in every 40 or 50 people, or just under 6 million Americans each year. While all of us experience “ups and downs” in our mood, people with Bipolar Disorder have mood swings which are extreme. Along with Major Depression, Bipolar Disorder is a psychiatric diagnosis that carries a relatively high risk for suicide or attempted suicide.
The characteristic pattern involves periods of “up” mood (mania or hypomania) and periods of “down” mood (depression). Current classification of Bipolar Disorder involves Type I (full episodes of mania and depression), Type II (mild episodes of mania and full episodes of depression) and rapid cycling (mood fluctuations occur in time period of a day or even several hours, rather than weeks).
Signs and symptoms of Mania (lasts one week or more):
Excessive energy, activity, or restlessness
Excessive “high” or good mood
Rapid and pressured speech
Significant decreased sleep
Denial that anything is wrong
Signs and symptoms of Depression
Decreased energy or activity level
Sad or depressed mood
Preoccupation with death or suicide
Lack of interest in activities
Excessive sleep or difficulty falling asleep
Change in appetite (usually diminished)
Can Children or Adolescents have Bipolar Disorder? Like many psychological disorders, bipolar disorder is more difficult to identify in children and adolescents. Some experts argue that the disorder does not truly exist in children, while others argue that it is under-identified and treated. Especially with bipolar disorder, a thorough assessment by a licensed mental health provider, like a psychologist or psychiatrist, is a good first step.
What is the Difference Between Creativity and Periods of Mania? Of course, any distinction between creativity and mania is somewhat blurry at the boundary. However, people who experience manic episodes often make judgments and decisions that are dangerous or extremely risky. While other people may find their energy level stimulating or challenging at first, the racing thoughts, distractibility, and irritability soon wear other people down. After receiving treatment for bipolar disorder, people often mourn the loss these high energy times. Psychotherapy can help them adjust to this loss and help them stay focused on the problems which developed during periods of mania.
How is Bipolar Disorder Treated? Author Kay Redfield Jamison, a physician who writes about her own experience with bipolar disorder, talks about the importance of combining medicine with counseling to address bipolar disorder. Medicines such as lithium have proven highly effective in controlling mood swings. Newer medicines, like Depakote or atypical antipsychotic medications may also help some people with bipolar disorder. Counseling can help people with bipolar disorder identify early signs of mood swings, help people adjust to a less energized lifestyle, and help them learn to avoid making impulsive decisions during periods of elevated mood.