Also known as manic-depressive illness, this is a condition that causes radical shifts in temperament over time, often accompanied by changes in energy and activity level. The mood swings are more sudden and dramatic than the up’s and down’s most people feel, and disrupt not only the affected person’s life but also the lives of those around him or her.
A classic Bipolar cycle will have a period of hypomania, in which the individual feels abnormally energetic and alive. Racing thoughts, concentration difficulty, and restless irritability are common, and sleep is difficult. Because of this mindset, it’s difficult to reason with the person in terms of focusing the energy or just ‘slowing down’ a bit. In contrast, the high is followed by an equally dramatic low, with all the characteristic signs of depression (self-doubt, pessimism, low energy, etc). The lows can be so profound that suicide is a very real risk. The “cycling” frequency and severity differ from individual to individual, and some persons with Bipolar Disorder may experience only the depressive part of the sequence.
Bipolar Disorder can develop at any time in life, but usually becomes evident in late adolescence or early adulthood. Although it may be present even in childhood, early-onset Bipolar Disorder is difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are difficult to differentiate from willful misbehaviors or temperament. Willfulness, destructive tantruming, and poor school performance can signal many, many things in childhood
Research indicates that Bipolar Disorder is due to poorly regulated brain chemistry, and is often passed along in families. This is a life-long condition that requires treatment (without help, people with Bipolar Illness tend to get worse with time). A combination of medication (mood stabilizers) and psychotherapy has proven to be the optimal treatment, and is especially effective when continuous rather than crisis-based.