What Is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder or manic depression as it is also known is a complex illness that is characterized by a dramatic and unpredictable shift in a person’s mood, energy levels, thoughts, and behavior. According to research conducted by The National Institute of Mental Health about 5.7 million American adults, which accounts for about 2.6% of the population, are affected by this disorder. Bipolar disorder can develop early in adolescence with the median age for onset bipolar disorder being 25 years old and even developing as late into a person’s 40’s or 50’s. Men and women of all ages, race, ethnic groups and social classes are equally affected by this disorder. In women, however, studies have shown they are prone to have more depressive or mixed episodes as opposed to men with the illness.

In addition, The National Institute of Mental Health reports that more than two-thirds of people with bipolar disorder may have one or more relatives with the disorder. The exact cause of bipolar disorder is unknown but it is not necessarily hereditary nor can a person be genetically predisposed to develop bipolar disorder simply because it runs in their family. Certain external factors can serve as triggers that can set off an episode or make a pre-existing symptom worse. Some of the triggers can be stress related, lack of sleep or substance abuse.

Bipolar Vs Sleep... what you should know!

The symptoms associated with bipolar disorder can vary greatly amongst individuals in regards to the pattern, severity, and frequency of the illness. The frequent mood changes of bipolar disorder can be so intense it can negatively impact a person’s ability to function on a day-to-day basis. Bipolar disorder falls into four distinct categories which are: mania, hypomania, depression and mixed episodes. Each that is listed below has their own unique set of moods and symptoms.


In the manic phase of bipolar disorder a person experiences feelings of high energy and euphoria which is typically common with mania. A person in this phase usually requires little sleep, can be hyperactive and has feelings of invincibility. A person’s behavior during a manic episode can also lead into impaired judgment and impulsive behavior. These good feelings however can easily spiral into bouts of anger, irritability and aggressive behavior. Other common symptoms associated with mania include:

  • Unrealistic, grandiose beliefs about one’s abilities
  • Highly distractible and unable to concentrate
  • Talking so rapidly that others can’t keep up or understand
  • Delusions and hallucinations (in severe cases)


Is a milder form of mania with many of the same associated symptoms. People with hypomania are able to conduct their lives normally and give an outward impression to others as if nothing is wrong. Hypomania however can result in impaired judgment which can harm relationships, careers and reputations. Unchecked, this can escalate into full-blown mania.


Although bipolar depression and depression share many similarities there are significant differences between the two. Certain symptoms such irritability, guilt and feelings of restlessness are more commonly associated with bipolar depression than with depression. People with bipolar depression also have a tendency to move and speak slower as well sleep for longer periods of time and have increased weight gain. Other common symptoms of bipolar depression include:

  • Feeling hopeless, sad, or empty
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Inability to experience pleasure
  • Fatigue or loss of energy

Mixed Episodes

A mixed episode of bipolar disorder is a combination of symptoms of either mania or hypomania and depression. Common examples of a mixed episode can include depression combined with insomnia or irritability combined with agitation. This combination of high energy and low mood can greatly increase the risk of suicide. Warnings of suicide include:

  • Talk of death, self-harm, or suicide
  • Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
  • Feeling worthless or like a burden to others


Living with bipolar disorder can be challenging and contrary to popular belief many people can go on to lead satisfying and fulfilling lives as long as you educate yourself on the illness. The key is to not wait to get help if you notice symptoms in yourself or in a loved one. Left undiagnosed and untreated bipolar disorder can increasingly worsen and turn destructive not just to yourself but to those around you. There is hope!