What Is Bipolar Disorder?

NOV, 27; 2020

My own brain is to me the most unaccountable of machinery - always buzzing, humming, soaring, roaring, diving, and then buried in mud. And why?
-Virginia Woolf

Bipolar Disorder - also known as manic depression, refers to a mental illness that results in significant disturbance in mood and activity levels. As the name suggests, bipolar disorder can involve an oscillation of mood and activity levels between two poles. In order to understand bipolar, it is essential to familiarise oneself with the poles in question: mania and depression.

Mania refers to a significant elevation in one’s mood, as well as one’s mental and physical activities. This elevation varies in intensity, and is classified as such.
At its lowest intensity, mania manifests as hypomania. Herein, the elevation in mood and activity levels is mild. It is also accompanied by a heightened sense of well-being. This results in increased sociability in the form of over familiarity and talkativeness. The increased pace of mental activity makes it considerably difficult to pay attention or concentrate. This, combined with the elevated physical energy makes it difficult for one to sit still.

As the intensity of these symptoms increase, they qualify as a full blown manic episode. The elevated mood reaches a state of great elation or euphoria. The increased physical and mental energy manifests as a constant state of excitement. The same is also revealed by a decreased need for sleep and an increased rate of speech. This is often accompanied by an increased lack of inhibition in social situations, the tendency to be distracted quickly, and other symptoms such as overspending. All of these symptoms combined, cause a severe disruption in one’s social and occupational life.

Sometimes, a manic episode is also accompanied by psychotic symptoms such as grandiose delusions about oneself, delusions regarding persecution by others, or delusions of a religious nature pertaining to one’s own identity. The increase in mental energy is so extreme that speech may become incoherent. Similarly, an extreme increase in physical energy may result in violence and aggression. In addition to this, one may also demonstrate a complete neglect of survival essentials such as eating or sleeping.

On the other hand, depression refers to a dip in mood and activity levels. One experiences a low mood, decreased energy and a loss of interest in activities that previously interested them. These symptoms are generally accompanied by others, such as a marked change in sleep and appetite patterns, increased feelings of hopelessness, low self-esteem, and even thoughts of self harm. Moreover, depression also involves some physical symptoms such as fatigue, significant difference in weight, reduced libido, and the like. Episodes of depression vary greatly in their intensity, from mild to severe. Some are able to carry on with their usual activities, although at a great personal cost. While others may suffer from such extremes that one is unable to get up for days on end. In some cases, depression can also be accompanied by psychotic symptoms such delusions of sin and poverty, hallucinations of decomposing matter, and a state of stupor.

Bipolar disorder involves an oscillation between these affective states. However, there is great variability in terms of relative intensity. Based on this, bipolar disorder is further classified as Bipolar I and Bipolar II. The main difference between the two is concerned with the severity of the manic episode.

Bipolar I disorder is characterised by the presence of at least one manic episode. It may or may not include additional depressive episodes. As opposed to bipolar II, the symptoms of mania are at a much higher intensity.

Bipolar II disorder is characterised by an episode of hypomania, instead of mania. Furthermore, unlike bipolar I, an individual suffering from bipolar II certainly suffers from a depressive episode. Sometimes, bipolar II is misdiagnosed as depression because the episode of hypomania may give the illusion of normalcy when compared to the depressive episode.

In both types of bipolar disorder, the frequency of each of the episodes are also variable. Mania can last from anywhere between a week to four or five months. Meanwhile depression lasts for longer, ranging from two weeks to six months or more. Sometimes, the relative frequency of each state can result in a mixed episode, wherein symptoms of both are evident at once, or one alternates between both states within the span of a day or a few hours.

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that requires immediate medical attention. If you or anyone you know may be suffering from symptoms of bipolar disorder, contact a mental health professional, such as a clinical psychologist or a psychiatrist, who is qualified to treat psychopathologies