What is a Bipolar Disorder?
A bipolar disorder, formerly referred to as manic-depression, is a chronic, lifelong neurological disorder which causes changes in mood and activity level. Although all people’s moods change depending on what is going on around them, people with bipolar disorder experience shifts in mood that are more extreme than would be expected. Approximately 0.5% to 1.5% of the adult population experience bipolar disorders, with men and women equally affected. Bipolar disorders are inherited, with the strongest links to first-degree relatives (e.g. siblings, parents-to-children).
Bipolar I Disorder
Bipolar I disorder is characterized by a change in mood between episodes of mania and mixed episodes. You may also experience an episode of depression. Symptoms of these episodes are:
- Decreased need for sleep (e.g., you feel rested after only a few hours of sleep)
- Racing thoughts, more talkative than usual, or feeling pressure to keep talking
- Excessively distractible
- Involvement in activities that will probably lead to negative consequences
- Low energy level
- Thoughts of death or suicide
- Loss of interest in your favorite activities
- Low desire to be with friends in social situations
- You experience symptoms of both mania and depression for at least one week
Symptoms of mania cause difficulties in social, occupational, and personal situations. They may also require that you be admitted to the hospital to ensure your safety and that of others.
Bipolar II Disorder
Bipolar II disorder is similar to bipolar I disorder in that both are characterized by changes in mood.
However, these shifts in mood are not as severe as those experienced by people with bipolar I disorder.
Because the shifts in mood and symptoms are not as severe, people with bipolar II disorder typically do not experience significant impairment in areas of their lives, nor do they require hospitalization to ensure safety.
Bipolar Disorder in Children
Diagnosis of bipolar disorder in children has only recently begun, largely due to a greater understanding of what this disorder looks like in a younger population. While the prevalence rates for children are not clear, researchers agree that significantly fewer children experience bipolar disorder than do adults. Many of the symptoms of bipolar disorder are similar in both adults and children. However, some symptoms that are unique to children are:
- Severe anxiety when separating from parents
- Compulsive craving for certain kinds of foods or objects
- Dangerous behaviors (e.g., jumping off of the roof of your house)
- Lack of interest in play
Although bipolar disorder is not curable, it is treatable. It is important to seek help from a clinical psychologists or psychiatrist if you have concerns about your child (or yourself). Early diagnosis is important to successfully managing symptoms.
Bipolar disorder assessments are usually performed by a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist. Diagnosis occurs through a combination of techniques and includes a clinician, client, parent(s), teacher(s), and significant other(s), if applicable. Observations of how the client behaves at school, work, or home are made by appropriate people such as teachers, parents, significant others, and the clinician. The clinician will conduct an interview with the client to learn about his or her past and current functioning. The client will also participate in a neuropsychological evaluation.
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