What Is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is a chronically recurring condition involving moods that swing between the highs of mania and the lows of depression.

But that's not quite the whole picture; depression is by far the most pervasive feature of the illness, while the manic phase usually involves a mix of irritability, anger, and depression, with or without euphoria. The elation may manifest as unusual energy and overconfidence, playing out in bouts of overspending or promiscuity.

The disorder most often starts in young adulthood, but also occurs in children and adolescents. Misdiagnosis is common; the condition is typically confused with everything from attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder to schizophrenia to borderline personality disorder.

Biological factors probably create vulnerability to the disorder, and experiences such as sleep deprivation can kick off manic episodes.

While the depression of bipolar disorder can resist treatment, mood swings and recurrences can often be delayed or prevented with a mood stabilizer, on it's own or combined with other drugs. Psychotherapy is an important adjunct to pharmacotherapy, especially for dealing with the work and relationship problems that can accompany the disorder.

Recent Posts on Bipolar Disorder

Advocacy or Privacy?

By Liza Long on March 30, 2015 in The Accidental Advocate
Is it oversharing to talk about your child's mental illness? What if your child has cancer?

One Pilot’s Suicide Prompts a Call for Common Sense

By Julie K Hersh on March 29, 2015 in Struck By Living
The Germanwings crash causes a new look at regulations for pilots. Do current FAA regulations cause pilots to hide depression and bipolar disease, resulting in more severe illness?

Changing the ‘No Casserole’ Response to Mental Illness

A mother of two who is active in the International Bipolar Foundation shared a story the other day. When her youngest daughter was diagnosed with diabetes, friends called, sent cards and flowers, brought food, and posted encouraging Facebook messages.

Recovering From Seasonal Shifts in Mood in Bipolar Disorder

By Elizabeth Brondolo Ph.D. on March 26, 2015 in Take Control
For people who have bipolar disorder, seasonal changes in mood can disrupt your health and well being. You can learn to recognize and address these seasonal shifts before they cause harm. We examine the effects of these shifts on motivation, thinking and identity. Early recognition can help you gain better control of bipolar spectrum disorder.

The Cerebellum Deeply Influences Our Thoughts and Emotions

Yesterday there was a report on NPR about groundbreaking new research on the cerebellum from Harvard Medical School. The latest neuroscience shows that the cerebellum plays an important role in creating fluidity between our thoughts, actions, emotions, and cognitive processes.

4 Ways To Be A More Authentic Person

People are attracted to authenticity. Here are four techniques that help you be your most authentic self, even in uncomfortable situations.

Who Am I? The Effects of Bipolar Disorder on Identity

By Elizabeth Brondolo Ph.D. on March 09, 2015 in Take Control
Do you often feel like you don't know who you are? Do your attitudes towards life and work change without much warning? Are your friends and family puzzled by these changes in your opinions and your motivation? Learn more about the ways bipolar spectrum disorder can affect your identity.

Empire: A New Model for Bipolar Disorder on TV

By Ruth C. White Ph.D. on February 23, 2015 in Culture in Mind
Empire is a new hit TV show on the Fox Network that not only breaks ground as a black family drama based in hip-hop culture, but it shows a rare character with bipolar disorder who is not falling apart at the seams. Andre, the eldest son of a family music dynasty, has a degree from an elite school and (so far) successfully runs the family's multi-faceted business empire.

Confusing How and Why Is Prolonging The Suffering in Bipolar

By Tom Wootton on February 23, 2015 in Bipolar Advantage
If you want to end all suffering you need to understand the difference between why and how. The reason so many people are still suffering is because this difference has not been made clear enough.

The Diagnostic Swamp of Childhood Bipolar Disorder NOS

Just published in one of the world’s leading psychiatric journals is a study documenting the dramatic change in bipolar disorder NOS (not otherwise specified) diagnosed in children and adolescents aged 2 to 19 years from 1999 to 2010.

Welcoming the Mentally Ill Back into Our Community

By Allen J Frances M.D. on February 02, 2015 in DSM5 in Distress
It has been my life’s passion to help the victims of mental illness discover that they can again be loveable, loving, purposeful people with the ability no longer to be overwhelmed by their illness.

Bring Back the Asylum?

By Rachel Pruchno Ph.D. on January 30, 2015 in All in the Family
The Penn scholars may as well have encouraged us to build more “Funny Farms” or “Loony Bins.” These bioethicists should recognize the harm in their cavalier choice of words. Couldn’t they have chosen a less provocative term?

Cognitive Deficit in Bipolar Disorder

By Russ Federman Ph.D., A.B.P.P. on December 20, 2014 in Bipolar You
An exploration of the role of cognitive deficit symptoms for those living with bipolar disorder

How Mad was Hitler?

By Stephen A Diamond Ph.D. on December 20, 2014 in Evil Deeds
What do we really know about Hitler's personality? Today, in a troubled world of political and religious leaders like the late Osama bin Laden, messianic ISIS chief Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, and enigmatic North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un, it is more important than ever to understand the underlying psychology of such dangerous individuals.

A Rose in December

By Marty Nemko Ph.D. on December 16, 2014 in How To Do Life
A Christmas story that happened today.

Sandy Hook Shooting Report Missed One Critical Issue

By Rachel Pruchno Ph.D. on December 11, 2014 in All in the Family
Using hindsight to identify inadequacies in the family’s and educational system’s responses to young Lanza, the report calls for better training and workforce development, increased family support, bolstered education, and more comprehensive services. But the report fails in one significant respect.

Choosing Mania or Depression Without Disorder

By Tom Wootton on November 21, 2014 in Bipolar Advantage
Do you have bipolar disorder or know somebody who does? What would change if you could learn how to turn depression and mania on and off whenever you wanted to? The entire way we look at bipolar disorder would change in profound ways. Some are beyond most people’s imagination, but a simple illustration will help you to see why some of us say bipolar is an advantage.

The Case Against Family Secrets

Every family has at least one secret, and some have many more than that. As difficult as it may be to do so, reaching out for help when your family’s secret involves mental illness may be the one best way to cope.

Winston Churchill’s Brilliant But Troubled Son, Randolph

By Thomas Maier on October 30, 2014 in Uncovering Great Minds
Churchill's son Randolph was viewed as a future leader of Great Britain, just like his father. However, this brilliant but self-destructive young man appears to have suffered from a bi-polar disorder, with psychological behavior that Winston was ill equipped to understand or do anything about it.

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By Tom Wootton on October 29, 2014 in Bipolar Advantage
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The Making of a Lone Wolf Terrorist

By Liah Greenfeld Ph.D. on October 26, 2014 in The Modern Mind
Why insanity defense may be appropriate for school shooters but not appropriate for home-grown jihadis

Treatment Resistant Depression and Borderline Personality

A debate between two academics about whether personality disorders or hidden "bipolarity" is the major cause of depression that responds poorly to antidepressants is dissected in this post. Many doctors seem to accept the absurd assumption that everyone who is moody must have an underlying manic depressive illness. They also seem to think that all depression is the same.

Don't Blame Plagiarism on Mental Illness

By Jean Kim M.D. on October 03, 2014 in Culture Shrink
Plagiarism is a volitional behavior, separate from primary mental illness.

The Worst Myth of Mental Illness

By Tom Wootton on September 30, 2014 in Bipolar Advantage
The diagnosis of mental illness is the most dangerous time for many of us. Overwhelmed by fear, confusion and the numbing effect of over-medication, we are vulnerable to messages that can have long-term negative consequences. It was during my first months after diagnosis that I fell victim to the messages that perpetuate the myth that we cannot change our condition.

Bipolar Disorder Leads to Poor Online Social Interaction

By Jennifer Golbeck Ph.D. on September 21, 2014 in Your Online Secrets
People with bipolar disorder have difficulties in their offline relationships. Research shows that their online interactions also suffer. They have fewer friends and weaker interactions online, and they have poorer knowledge of appropriate Internet behavior.

What if the Central Premise of Bipolar Disorder Is Wrong?

By Tom Wootton on September 18, 2014 in Bipolar Advantage
Always appending disorder to the word bipolar is akin to always appending accident to the end of automobile. In other words, saying “bipolar disorder” is the same as saying “car accident” every time you mention a car.

An Ice Bucket Challenge for Mental Illness

By Rachel Pruchno Ph.D. on September 10, 2014 in All in the Family
Would people video themselves singing a silly song, dancing a crazy jig, or making a goofy face in order to bring attention to serious mental illness?

A Genetic Mutation That Can Affect Mental & Physical Health

By Traci Stein PhD, MPH on September 05, 2014 in The Integrationist
The MTHFR mutation is associated with increased risk of depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, autism, heart disease, miscarriage, migraines, certain cancers, and more. What it is, how it affects you, and the good news: what you can do about it.

When a Family Member Commits Suicide

There are many ways for one person to leave another's life. Suicide may be the most painful way for those left behind.

Robin Williams' Depression and Suicide

By Tom Wootton on August 12, 2014 in Bipolar Advantage
Robin Williams killed himself yesterday. I tried to kill myself August 8th of 2005 so I know perhaps a little bit about how he felt. My best friend Santiago killed himself in November 2005 so I also know what it feels like for those who are left behind to sort it out.