Bipolar disorder is the medical name for manic depression. It is a mental illness, but is more accurately described as a neurobiological brain disorder involving extremes of mood.

It is one of the three major affective (or mood) disorders. The other two are:

  • unipolar disorder (depression)
  • schizoaffective disorder. (where both schizophrenic and mood affective symptoms are present)

Manic depression is complex in its variations, and each individual has their own unique form of the illness. In some people the 'manic' side is mild (hypomania), while others have wild manias. Depressions vary from brief 'downs', to aching, extended periods of blackness Other people may experience a "physical" depression or physical pain, with a flattening, or even absence, of emotion.

In some, but by no means all, cases a manic depressive may also show psychotic symptoms such as delusions and/or hallucinations.

While the mania or "high" side of the illness may sound fun, (it is described as euphoria after all), both mania and hypomania may be accompanied by dysphoria which implies agitation, anxiety, uncontrollable rage, or self-destructive feelings. Mania and depression may happen simultaneously and this is described as "mixed states".

It is rare for someone with the disorder to experience a see-sawing effect where they suffer depression, then an episode of mania, in equal amounts. The cycles are often unpredictable and of varying length.

The majority of people with bipolar disorder only have extreme cycles once every few years. However, "rapid cyclers" go through four or more episodes of mania and depression annually, "ultra-rapid cyclers" have episodes shorter than a week and "ultradian cyclers" have distinct and dramatic mood shifts within a single day.

About 1% of the world's population is thought to have some form of bipolar disorder, varying from mild to severe, and the illness is spread evenly amongst men and women.

The illness cannot be cured, but it can be managed with a combination of medication, psychotherapy, and life-adjustment skills.

Mood stabilizers such as lithium and Depakote are the primary medication. They may be combined with antidepressants, especially if the individual suffers badly from depression. However, unopposed antidepressants (use of antidepressants without also using a mood stabilizer) may be dangerous for a bipolar patient as they can lead them into a manic state very quickly, or to begin rapid cycling, or cause their illness to worsen.

Approximately 20% people with bipolar disorder eventually commit suicide, as a result of the illness -- a rate thirty times higher than the general population..

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