Understanding the Basics of Bipolar Disorder

Medically Reviewed by Madeline Hubbard, RN, BSN

Photo Courtesy: [Ben Akiba/E+/Getty Images]

Understanding the Basics of Bipolar Disorder

Editor’s Note: If you’re feeling suicidal, having thoughts about harming yourself or believe someone you know may be in danger of harming themselves, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 to obtain confidential support. This resource is free and accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week. TTY users can dial 711, followed by 1-800-273-8255. The organization also offers the Lifeline Chat service for online support.

Bipolar disorder is a chronic mental health condition that was previously referred to as “manic depression.” It causes frequent shifts in mood, energy and activity levels. People with bipolar disorder experience strong feelings of sadness, guilt and hopelessness during episodes of depression, and these are followed by extreme periods of happiness called mania.

Symptoms of bipolar disorder can vary from person to person in terms of severity and duration. For some people, feelings of depression and elevated moods may rotate or cycle. For others, moods might shift quickly or feelings of depression and elevated mood might alternate over a period of months. The condition can sometimes escalate and include symptoms of delusions, hallucinations and other types of psychosis that disconnect a person from reality.

Bipolar disorder impacts approximately 4.4% of adults in the United States during their lifetimes. Most commonly, symptoms begin in adolescence and young adulthood, but they may appear in childhood as well. There is no cure for bipolar disorder, and without treatment, this condition can lead to negative effects on a person’s finances, relationships and even their standing with the law. However, treatment options are available to help manage symptoms and stabilize day-to-day life.