Spotlight on Bipolar Disorder
David Prescott, Ph.D.
Mental Illness Awareness Week: Since 1990, the United States Congress has designated the first week in October as Mental Illness Awareness Week. This week highlights efforts to improve public awareness of mental illness, the latest research on treatment, and support available for people with mental illness and their families.
The Thursday of Mental Illness Awareness week (October 11) is Bipolar Awareness Day. On Thursday, particular emphasis is focused on the 2 million Americans diagnosed with bipolar disorder (or manic depression) and the 4-5 million people with bipolar disorder who may not be diagnosed.
Famous People with Bipolar Disorder: Artist Vincent Van Gogh; performers Carrie Fisher and Patty Duke; General Hospital actor Maurice Bernard; 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: 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” mood or irritability
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)
With bipolar disorder, mood swings usually last a few days to a month or more. The typical age when bipolar disorder is first evident is late adolescence or early adulthood. However, some experts suggest that bipolar disorder also exists in children and young teenagers.
What is the Difference Between Creativity and Periods of Mania? 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 have proven highly effective in controlling mood swings. Newer medicines, called atypical antipsychotics such as olanzapine and risperidone, 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. Experts in treating bipolar disorder emphasize that bipolar disorder appears to be a lifelong, rather than one time, experience. A commitment to ongoing treatment is usually the best approach.