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

Ups and Downs

By Marty Nemko Ph.D. on February 10, 2016 How To Do Life
A very short story about a person with bipolar and his wife.

Maybe It’s Harder to Kill Yourself Than You Picture

Is thinking about suicide ever therapeutic?

If Depression Were an Infection

What if depression were an infection? Although most of us focus on the psychological symptoms associated with depression, these physical symptoms are no less real.

A Novel Trial for Pediatric Bipolar Disorder

The failure of children diagnosed with bipolar disorder to respond to lamotrigine as adolescents and adults...

An Explanation for Trump's Appeal

By Fredric Neuman M.D. on January 29, 2016 Fighting Fear
An examination of those aspects of personality and behavior that have led to Donald Trump's success. A comparison to an incident long ago that also had political implications.

Eggshell Relationships

By Joe Navarro M.A. on January 28, 2016 Spycatcher
How can you recognize an emotionally unstable personality before he or she harms you?

How Do We Measure Success In Treating Bipolar Disorder?

By Tom Wootton on January 25, 2016 Bipolar Advantage
Using remission as the yardstick for measuring success has never produced results comparable to the ones associated with functionality assessments.

Is Bipolar Still In Disorder Really The Best We Can Do?

By Tom Wootton on January 14, 2016 Bipolar Advantage
Allowing such statements to go unchallenged not only harms the person saying them but also stigmatizes others into believing that the best we can do is to continue to suffer.

Jo McFarlane, Survivor!

Jo's story and her poetry reveal the essential spiritual truth that, however dark and difficult life becomes, hope for a future of love and joy is never to be denied.

Psychiatrist vs. Psychologist

Psychiatrists and psychologists are both involved in therapy, but often the general public mixes up these two professions.

The Missing Piece in the Treatment of Bipolar Depression

Importance of lessening the downward pull of emotionally painful issues in relation to bipolar depression

World's Best and Worst Places To Be Mentally Ill

By Allen J Frances M.D. on December 28, 2015 Saving Normal
We have discharged our mentally ill from hospitals, but neglected them so badly in the community that many wind up in prison dungeons or dumped on the streets.

You Are Not Your Mental Illness

If there was a bruise on your arm, you wouldn't go around calling yourself a bruise.

Eat Yourself Happy

What does food have to do with depression or anxiety? A lot. Paying attention to your diet not only promotes good physical health but can also improve your mental health.

How Depression Prepared Me For A Death In The Family

By Tom Wootton on November 17, 2015 Bipolar Advantage
If I did not understand how to function during depression or, worse yet, still clung to the notion that it is not possible, I would have been a burden to my family instead of an asset. Most people fear they will break down and become a burden on those around them or that their bipolar loved ones will break down and add to the already difficult situation.

Creativity and Psychiatric Illnesses

Small effects of many genes may increase the risk of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Some of these same genes may also contribute to creativity. Increased creativity may be helpful in terms of human evolution.

A Mother’s Nightmare

Read about H.R. 2646 a bill working through its way through Congress, introduced by Tim Murphy, Ph.D., the only psychologist in Congress, that aims to provide real solutions for America’s broken mental health system.

The You Can Recover Project

The You Can Recover Project’s mission is to give HOPE to people struggling with mental health issues around the world, and inspire them with personal insights on how to recover and rebuild a healthy, meaningful, productive life.

What Clifford Beers Wanted

Jared Loughner wouldn’t have shot and severely injured U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords. James Holmes wouldn’t have walked into an Aurora movie theater, killing 12 and wounding 70. Adam Lanza wouldn’t have murdered 20 first graders at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

I Am A Narcissist. That's A Good Thing.

By Tom Wootton on October 13, 2015 Bipolar Advantage
Chock full of eminently practical advice on how to cope with the dangers of narcissism, in ourselves and others, Rethinking Narcissism brings much needed compassion and clarity to one of the most vexing problems in mental health without ever resorting to false hopes or naivete. In that way, the book itself is special. I consider it a ‘must read’ for everyone.

No Longer at the Mercy of Our Moods

By Tom Wootton on October 08, 2015 Bipolar Advantage
As a culture, we are learning to separate thought from action and stimulus from response. This makes it less likely, less acceptable, and less necessary that any of us be at "the mercy of our moods."

Medications and Weight Gain: We Need Support

Have you gained weight from taking medications for bipolar disorder? Are you getting support or feeling stigmatized?

One Potential Cause of Postpartum Psychosis

Postpartum psychosis is a serious disorder that can be treated effectively. A recent study demonstrates that about 4% of persons with postpartum psychosis may have an illness known as autoimmune encephalitis.

Jonny Hawkins Explains Why Mental Illness is a Family Affair

By Michael Friedman Ph.D. on October 07, 2015 Brick by Brick
Johnny Hawkins of the band Nothing More shares his family's story of mental illness and how he is working to raise awareness for mental health.

Can Your Birthday Predict Your Mental Health?

Despite debunking the myth of astrology, however, scientists have found that a person’s projected health can be linked to his or her birthday. The month in which people are born can influence their future, from their longevity to their future profession.

The Marketing of an Antipsychotic

By Christopher Lane Ph.D. on October 05, 2015 Side Effects
Ghostwriters, massaged data, tiny print, and children’s toys—all part of Big Pharma's arsenal of "defeat devices," outlined in Steven Brill's book, America's Most Admired Lawbreaker.

5 Reasons Suffering People Don’t Want to Try Medication

By Karen L Smith MSS, LCSW on October 04, 2015 Full Living
While it is true that we live in a world that too quickly turns to medication, it doesn't mean people with anxiety and depressive disorders should go without. This may be our one and only life; it is worth removing barriers to our contentment.

Not Going with the Bipolar Flow

Discussion of the challenges inherent in having to acquire self-observing capacities for the late adolescent/young adult with bipolar disorder..

The Pope Would Like H.R. 2646

Whether Pope Francis’ visit is a pastoral one or a political one, his messages of inclusiveness and humanity must be heeded. It’s long past time to demand that our federal legislators pay attention to the needs of citizens with serious mental illness.

What Makes Someone a Master Manipulator?

Among those afflicted with certain personality disorders, there are many who are master manipulators. Do personality disorders cause people to develop into master manipulators? The connection may not be as you expect.