Bipolar illness is not always immediately obvious as a diagnosis.
Bipolar illness used to be known as Manic Depression, due to the extreme
mood swings back and forth between depression and mania. At times,
people who suffer from this serious illness have been mistakenly treated
for depression alone, or for a personality disorder, or anxiety before
getting an accurate diagnosis. This is because it sometimes takes
observation across time to recognize that the symptoms actually conform
to those of bipolar illness.
The classic symptom for this illness is mood swings. But for some
people, the swings rarely achieve an intensity that would make an
accurate diagnosis obvious. Additionally, people can be treated for a
time just for the depression, as there may be more frequent depressive
episodes than manic.
The diagnosis is made after observing the mood swings, the length of
time they last, and their intensity. In some cases, the mood swings are
rapid and severe, but at other times, they arise gradually, and are not
as problematic, which is what sometimes makes the diagnosis difficult.
The depressive episodes can become severe, with suicidal thoughts
occurring along with other symptoms of depression, such as increased or
decreased appetite and sleep, lack of energy, inability to concentrate,
loss of interest in usual activities, feelings of worthlessness and
guilt, and anxiety or sadness. When suicidal thoughts are occurring,
there is often brief hospitalization.
The episodes of mania are generally characterized by periods with
little sleep and increased energy. People may feel euphoric and have
extreme behaviors and racing thoughts. They may view themselves as being
in a very creative or productive period, and not easily admit that
their behaviors are excessive. One often sees irritability or
aggression, denial of how uncharacteristic their behaviors are,
accompanied by very poor judgment. Mania sometimes leads to psychotic
thinking, and may at times need to be managed with brief
Bipolar illness is complex illness, which requires treatment with
medication, psychotherapy (sometimes both individual and family) and
occasionally hospitalization. There can be other conditions that
accompany bipolar illness (which sometimes make its diagnosis difficult)
such as alcohol or drug abuse and relationship or job difficulties.
If you believe that you, or someone you know, may be suffering from
bipolar illness it is important that you get an evaluation as soon as
possible, so that treatment can begin. It is best to be evaluated by a
psychotherapist or a psychiatrist. Although this is a serious illness,
there are many avenues of help available, and generally once an accurate
diagnosis is made, people can live very productive and happy lives.
Kathi Whitten Copyright 2009