Bipolar disorder is the modern name for what used to be called manic-depressive disorder. The disease causes fluctuations between, on the one hand, periods of overactivity and an intensified emotional life, and on the other hand, periods of reduced energy and depression.
Without treatment, the disease is often serious and disabling. But there are effective forms of treatment that enable the vast majority of those affected to live a normal life without severe disease symptoms. Such modern treatment combines medication with educational and psychological treatment methods.
All people have variations in their activity and emotional state. We become happy and activate ourselves in situations where we have the prospect of achieving positive goals. In other situations, we feel negative emotions and reduce our activity. This is necessary for our social life and it is largely how we direct our behavior. Activity level and emotional state are regulated very finely by certain systems in the brain.
In people affected by bipolar disorder, these systems are thrown out of balance and the regulation does not work normally. The brain and emotional life can be overactivated in a morbid way – we call this mania. Or the activity and mood may drop – this is called depression.
Common symptoms of mania
overactivity, reduced need for sleep, racing thoughts, difficulty staying focused, irritability, excitement, reckless behavior. In severe cases, aggressiveness and delusions. Manic periods usually last from a few days to several months.
Common symptoms of depression
depressed mood, inability to feel joy, reduced energy, difficulty concentrating, reduced zest for life, feelings of hopelessness, disturbed sleep, poor appetite. In severe cases, suicidal thoughts, delusions and inability to function in everyday life. The periods of depression usually last from a few weeks to many months, but long-term conditions are also common.
Mania and depression
are the two typical expressions of the disease. The oscillations between these two poles have given the name “bipolar”. But the disease can take many other forms. The manic symptoms can be mild, so-called hypomania.
It is also common for mania and depression symptoms to mix; this is called mixed state. Or alternations between depression and mania can occur frequently, this is called a rapid swing state. Not infrequently, the symptoms are difficult to interpret.
Bipolar disorder usually begins sometime between puberty and age 25, but onset before puberty or later in life is not uncommon. It can take a long time to understand that the emotional problems a person has suffered are due to bipolar disorder. Classic bipolar disorder with typical mania alternating with depression affects about 1 percent of the population. If you also include other forms of bipolar disorder, around 5 percent are affected.