Consumers

Psychology Information Online Homepage

Children Homepage

National Directory of Psychologists - Locate a Local Psychologist

Articles by Psychologists

Forensic Psychology

Subject Index of Topics

What is a Psychologist?

How to Select a Psychologist

Information About Psychological Problems

Information About Psychological Treatment

Psychology Bookstore

Frequently Asked Questions about Psychology

Professionals

List your practice in the National Directory of Psychologists

Publish Articles Online

Locate Continuing Education Programs

Psychology Jobs

Market Your Practice

Professional Resource Directory

Students

Psychology Careers

Graduate Education

Licensing Information

What is Bipolar Disorder?

The distinguishing characteristic of Bipolar Disorder, as compared to other mood disorders, is the presence of at least one manic episode. Additionally, it is presumed to be a chronic condition because the vast majority of individuals who have one manic episode have additional episodes in the future. The statistics suggest that four episodes in ten years is an average, without preventative treatment. Every individual with bipolar disorder has a unique pattern of mood cycles, combining depression and manic episodes, that is specific to that individual, but predictable once the pattern is identified. Research studies suggest a strong genetic influence in bipolar disorder. 

Bipolar disorder typically begins in adolescence or early adulthood and continues throughout life. It is often not recognized as a psychological problem, because it is episodic. Consequently, those who have it may suffer needlessly for years without treatment.

Effective treatment is available for bipolar disorder. Without treatment, marital breakups, job loss, alcohol and drug abuse, and suicide may result from the chronic, episodic mood swings. The most significant treatment issue is noncompliance with treatment. Most individuals with bipolar disorder do not perceive their manic episodes as needing treatment, and they resist entering treatment. In fact, most people report feeling very good during the beginning of a manic episode, and don't want it to stop. This is a serious judgment problem. As the manic episode progresses, concentration becomes difficult, thinking becomes more grandiose, and problems develop.  Unfortunately, the risk taking behavior usually results in significant painful consequences such as loss of a job or a relationship, running up excessive debts, or getting into legal difficulties. Many individuals with bipolar disorder abuse drugs or alcohol during manic episodes, and some of these develop secondary substance abuse problems. 

Facts About Bipolar Illness

  • More than 2 million Americans have manic-depressive illness. It is extremely distressing and disruptive to their lives. 
  • Like any serious illness, bipolar disorder also creates problems for spouses, family members, friends, and employers. 
  • Family members of people with bipolar disorder often have to cope with serious behavioral problems (such as wild spending sprees) and the lasting consequences of these behaviors. 
  • Bipolar disorder tends to run in families, and there is strong evidence that it is inherited. However, despite ongoing research efforts, a specific genetic defect associated with the disease has not yet been identified.
  • Bipolar illness has been diagnosed in children under age 12, although it is not common in this age bracket. The symptoms can be confused with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, so careful diagnosis is necessary.

 


More Information About Bipolar Disorder