Bipolar disorder typically begins in adolescence or early adulthood and continues
throughout life. It is often not recognized as an illness and people who have it may
suffer needlessly for years or even decades.
Bipolar disorder can be extremely distressing and disruptive for those who have this
disease, their spouses, family members, friends and employers. Although there is no
known cure, bipolar disorder is treatable, and recovery is possible. Individuals with
bipolar disorder have successful relationships and meaningful jobs. The combination of
medications and psychotherapy helps the vast majority of people return to productive,
"Bipolar disorder is treatable, and recovery is possible.”
What Causes Bipolar Disorder?
Although a specific genetic link to bipolar disorder has not been determined, studies
show that 80 to 90 percent of people who suffer from this illness have relatives who
have some form of depression. It is also possible that people may inherit a
vulnerability to the illness, which may then be triggered by environmental factors.
Other research suggests the illness may be caused by a biochemical imbalance which
alters a person's moods. This imbalance may be due to irregular hormone production or
to a problem with certain neurotransmitters.
What are the Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is often difficult to recognize and diagnose. One reason is because of
hypomania, which is an early sign of manic depression. Hypomania may cause a person to
have a high level of energy, unrealistically expansive thoughts or ideas and impulsive
or reckless behavior. These symptoms may feel good to the person, which may lead to
denial that there is a problem.
Another reason for the lack of recognition may be that bipolar disorder may appear to
be symptoms of other illnesses or may occur with other problems such as substance
abuse, poor school performance, or trouble in the workplace.
Symptoms of Mania:
Symptoms of Depression:
Symptoms of Depression after Mania:
Some people experience periods of normal mood and behavior following a manic phase,
however, the depressive phase will eventually appear. Symptoms of depression include:
Anyone suffering from bipolar disorder should be under psychiatric care; however, he or
she may need help and encouragement from friends and family in recognizing the problem
and seeking help. If the person is in the midst of an episode, he or she may refuse to
get help. In this situation, it may be necessary to have the person hospitalized for
his or her own protection in order to receive much needed treatment, particularly if
the person is considering suicide.
Most people with bipolar disorder can be helped with medication. Lithium, which is
effective in controlling mania; and carbamazepine and valproate, which we
mood-stabilizers and anticonvulsants, are some of the medications which are used. In
addition, benzodiazepines are sometimes prescribed for insomnia and thyroid medication
may also be helpful.
It is often suggested that people with bipolar disorder also receive guidance,
education and support from a psychotherapist. A therapist can help the person to deal
with personal relationships, maintain a healthy selfimage and ensure that the person
complies with his or her treatment. Psychotherapy can also assist the person in coping
with the side-effects of the medications. Ongoing encouragement and support from
friends and family are also very important. It may be helpful to join a self-help or
support group to help those coping with this illness.
For more information or referrals for local service contact your local mental health
National Mental Health Association
2001 N. Beauregard Street, 12th Floor
Alexandria, VA 22311
Mental Health Resource Center 800/969-NMHA
TTY Line 800/433-5959
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
National Institute of Mental Health
National Foundation for Depressive Illness
NMHA offers additional pamphlets on a variety of mental health topics. For more
information or to order multiple copies of pamphlets, please call 1-800-969-NMHA.