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

Difficult Choices Following Bipolar Destabilization

Medical withdrawal from enrollment can be a painful but necessary choice sometimes encountered by university students with bipolar disorder. This blog post discuses the importance of carefully managing ones recovery during the time away from school in order to maximize chances of success upon return to the university environment.

An Honest, Heartfelt Portrayal of Bipolar Disorder

Hollywood depictions of mental illness usually are far off the mark. In Infinitely Polar Bear, Mark Ruffalo gives a rich, three dimensional, and deeply sympathetic performance as the bipolar father of two young girls.

When Bipolar Disorder Moved Into the House

By Hara Estroff Marano on June 24, 2015 in Brainstorm
In this new film, a bipolar father learns to take care of his two daughters Or did they take care of him?

Infinitely Polar Bear: Rare Portrayal of Bipolar Disorder

By Suzanne Lachmann Psy.D. on June 19, 2015 in Me Before We
Infinitely Polar Bear is the story of how love can provide the incentive to get better. Mark Ruffalo’s performance is gritty, believable and most certainly Oscar-Worthy.

Movie on Bipolar Disorder Speaks To Any Challenged Family

By Tina Traster on June 19, 2015 in Against All Odds
New movie on bi-polar disorder shows nuances of family life

Infinitely Dad

Insight into how confusing and paradoxical mental illness can be for the rest of the family.

8 Reasons to See the Film “Infinitely Polar Bear”

By Susan Newman Ph.D. on June 18, 2015 in Singletons
The true story of one family’s resilience, determination, and love in the face of odds most of society and much of the medical industry think insurmountable.

Humanizing the “Mentally Ill”

Want evidence to believe in the human spirit? Want to see how the world looks from the most stigmatized element of society? Check out Infinitely Polar Bear.

Lubitz Likely Practiced Mass Murder by Airplane

By Kathryn Seifert on May 18, 2015 in Stop The Cycle
New details are still emerging about the Germanwings plane crash in the Alps in March of this year. Many are focused on the fact that co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, had been diagnosed with a mental illness as being his major risk factor for suicide and mass murder. Mental illness alone is NOT a risk factor for violence or mass murder.

I Have To Leave My Kids:Help

What To Do When You Feel Trapped At Home

Thank You Notes

Now that my final grades are turned in and I have found some time to sit at my computer, “if you wouldn’t mind” I wanted to first get caught up on a few overdue Thank You notes. Yes, this short blog is inspired by the always entertaining and witty Thank You Notes ritual Jimmy Fallon does on the Tonight Show every week.

An Opportunity to Think Upstream

By Paul Gionfriddo on May 09, 2015 in Finding Tim
B4Stage4 changes the equation for people with mental illnesses. It gets us focused on what we can do early, before a crisis occurs, to change trajectories of lives.

Bipolar Disorder and Failure to Launch Syndrome

How does bipolar disorder present as failure to launch syndrome in a young adult? Read on...

The Most Important Thing To Know During Bipolar Episodes

By Tom Wootton on April 23, 2015 in Bipolar Advantage
There is one specialized type of knowledge that trumps all of the others during states of mania and depression, knowing how to function while in the state. While all the other types of knowledge are interesting, knowing how to function can literally be the difference between life and death.

4 Lifestyle Changes That Will Boost Your Mental Health

When we seek help for a mental health condition, we can expect to hear about various medications and treatment options, but what’s often missing from the conversation is any talk of lifestyle changes.

The Gifts of Depression

By Tom Wootton on April 07, 2015 in Bipolar Advantage
Manic-depression left a decisive scar across generations of my family. For each of us who bears that mark, moods have conferred advantage, as well as disability. I don’t mean the energy of hypomania. That’s a fun enough ride, while it lasts. But it’s nothing compared to the unexpected and enriching gifts of depression, like patience, humility, insight, and empathy.

Misdiagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, Part II

A case study illustrating comorbidity and distinctions between bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder and attention deficit disorder.

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.

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.

11 Ways to Help a Friend With Bipolar Disorder

Those diagnosed with bipolar disorder may be at the mercy of extreme mood swings, but they are not powerless. Medication, therapy and a healthy lifestyle can help them enjoy full and productive lives, especially when supplemented by the support of those closest to them.

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?

A Rose in December

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

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.

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

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?

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.

People With Mental Illness Need a Stonewall Inn

Our mental health system is in tatters. There has been a great deal of finger-pointing and hand-wringing over how things got to be so bad. Some blame lack of funding. Others blame misguided priorities. Democrats blame Republicans. Republicans blame Democrats. This blame game misses the forest for the trees. There is a single underlying cause of the current mess.

Yes, Psychotherapy Is the Answer

Psychotherapy is a rewarding and effective practice that encompasses the depth and reach of human nature. It effectively heals psychiatric symptoms, the struggles of human character, and allows for the recovery of authenticity and the capacity to love. Dispensing drugs is destructive and ineffective. If we let psychotherap die, then we will have to invent it all over again