Bipolar Disorder (Manic Depression)

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Let’s Talk Facts About
Bipolar Disorder (Manic Depression)

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder, also commonly known as manic depression, is a brain disorder that causes shifts in a person’s
mood, energy, and ability to function. The symptoms of bipolar disorder can result in damaged relationships,
difficulty in working or going to school, and even suicide. There are generally periods of normal mood as well, but
left untreated, people with bipolar disorder continue to experience these shifts in mood. The good news is that
bipolar disorder can be treated, and people with this illness can lead full and productive lives.

What Are the Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder can cause dramatic mood swings—from high and feeling on top of the world, or uncomfortably
irritable and ‘revved up’, to sad and hopeless, often with periods of normal moods in between. The periods of highs
and lows are called episodes of mania and depression.

• Feeling on top of the world. A sensation of sheer and utter happiness that nothing—not even bad news or a
horrifying event or tragedy—can change.
• Sudden or extreme irritability or rage. While mania is often portrayed as a pleasurable experience, that is not the
case for many people with bipolar disorder.
• Grandiose delusions. Individuals imagine that they have special connections with God, celebrities, or political
• Invincibility or unrealistic beliefs in one’s abilities. The person feels that nothing can prevent him or her from
accomplishing any task.
• Hyperactivity. Scheduling more events in a day than can be accomplished; inability to relax or sit still.
• Excessively risky behavior. Reckless driving, outlandish spending sprees, foolish business investments, or out-of
character sexual behavior.
• Uncontrollable racing thoughts/rapid speech. Ideas that abruptly change from topic to topic expressed in loud,
rapid speech that becomes increasingly incoherent.
• Less need for sleep.

• Intense sadness or despair. The person feels helpless, hopeless, and worthless.
• No interest in activities they once enjoyed.
• Loss of energy, fatigue.
• Sleep difficulties. Either sleeping too much or not at all.
• Changes in appetite. Either a noticeable increase in appetite or a substantial weight loss unrelated to dieting.
• Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions.
• Thoughts of death or suicide.
© Copyright 2005 American Psychiatric Association

Let’s Talk Facts About
Bipolar Disorder (Manic Depression)

Sometimes severe episodes of mania or depression include psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations (hearing or
seeing things not actually there) and delusions (false, strongly held beliefs not influenced by logical reasoning).

What Causes the Illness?

Scientists are learning about the possible causes of bipolar disorder through several kinds of studies. Most now
agree that there is no single cause for bipolar disorder—rather, many factors act together to produce the illness.

Bipolar disorder can run in families, so there is a high likelihood that genes contribute to the illness. In fact, 80%–
90% of individuals with bipolar disorder have a relative with either depression or bipolar disorder, a rate that is
seven to 10 times higher than that found in the general population. However, environmental factors are also
important in bipolar disorder—extreme stress, sleep disruption, and drugs and alcohol may trigger episodes in
vulnerable patients.

Can Bipolar Disorder Be Treated?

Absolutely. Bipolar disorder is very treatable. Because bipolar disorder is a recurrent illness, long-term preventive
treatment is strongly recommended. Medication alone or a combination of psychotherapy and medication is optimal
for managing the disorder over time. Medications known as “mood stabilizers” are usually prescribed to help
control bipolar disorder.

In most cases, bipolar disorder is much better controlled if treatment is continuous. Even when there are no breaks
in treatment, mood changes can still occur. Working closely with the psychiatrist and communicating openly can
make a difference in the effectiveness of treatment.

Like all serious illnesses, bipolar disorder can disrupt a person’s life and relationships with others, particularly with
spouses and family members. Thus, people undergoing treatment for bipolar disorder sometimes benefit from
psychotherapy, in which the individual and a psychiatrist work out the problems and re-establish relationships
damaged by the illness.

Since bipolar disorder can cause serious disruptions and create an intensely stressful family situation, family
members may also benefit from professional resources, particularly mental health advocacy groups. From these
sources, families not only learn strategies to help them cope with their ill family member, but also learn to be an
active part of the treatment.

© Copyright 2005 American Psychiatric Association

Let’s Talk Facts About
Bipolar Disorder (Manic Depression)


For more information, please contact:

American Psychiatric Association (APA)
1000 Wilson Blvd.
Suite 1825
Arlington, VA 22209

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA)
730 N. Franklin Street
Suite 501
Chicago, IL 60610-7224

National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI)
Colonial Place Three
2107 Wilson Blvd., Suite 300
Arlington, VA 22201-3042
Information Helpline:
800-950-NAMI (6264)

National Mental Health Association (NMHA)
2001 N. Beauregard Street
12th Floor
Alexandria, VA 22311
800-969-NMHA (6642)

One in a series of brochures designed to reduce stigmas associated with mental illnesses by promoting informed
factual discussion of the disorders and their psychiatric treatments. This brochure was developed for educational
purposes and does not necessarily reflect opinion or policy of the American Psychiatric Association. For more
information, please visit

© Copyright 2005 American Psychiatric Association