Did you know that suicide is the number one cause of premature death among people with bipolar disorder? According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), bipolar disorder results in 9.2 years reduction in the expected life span, and as many as one in five patients with bipolar disorder successfully commits suicide. Once more commonly known as manic-depressive illness, the brain disorder and psychiatric disease can cause mood disorder, a shift in energy, activity levels and dysfunction in all manner of life skills.
Vincent Van Gogh was posthumously diagnosed as having bipolar disorder. On his birthday each year, March 30, World Bipolar Day (WBD) is observed with the hope of bringing world awareness to the disorder to eventually eliminate the social stigma.
Recently, it has gotten more deserved attention, especially from researchers, government and private funding agencies. The need for further awareness, education, and research on this severe mental illness, was answered with the launch of the International Society for Bipolar Disorders at the 3rd International Conference on Bipolar Disorders, in Pittsburgh, PA, in 1999, by David J. Kupfer, M.D., founding president. The Society, whose ever-growing membership currently represents 17 countries, is a major and trusted source of research and clinical data, working to share it with people all over the world. Symptoms can be severe, and can result in difficult or damaged relationships, poor job or school performance, and as I already mentioned, even suicide. The Treatment Advocacy Center, founded in Arlington, Virginia, reports on its website that in 2014, the condition was estimated to affect 2.2 percent of the population or approximately 5.3 million adults in the U.S. aged 18 or older. It is unfortunate that an estimated 51% in any given year are untreated.
This may be in part because sometimes people suffer for years without knowing what’s going on. It can begin in childhood, but not become fully identified until the late teen or early adult years, which is when it most often appears. Once diagnosed, bipolar must be managed throughout the course of your life.
A doctor can diagnose bipolar disorder with guidelines from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Many people aren’t aware that there are four types of bipolar disorder, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center.
- Bipolar I Disorder—defined by manic or mixed episodes that last at least seven days, or by manic symptoms that are so severe that the person needs immediate hospital care. Usually, depressive episodes occur as well, typically lasting at least two weeks.
- Bipolar II Disorder—defined by a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes, but no full-blown manic or mixed episodes.
- Bipolar Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (BP-NOS)—diagnosed when symptoms of the illness exist but do not meet diagnostic criteria for either bipolar I or II. However, the symptoms are clearly out of the person's normal range of behavior.
- Cyclothymic Disorder, or Cyclothymia—a mild form of bipolar disorder. People with cyclothymia have episodes of hypomania as well as mild depression for at least two years. However, the symptoms do not meet the diagnostic requirements for any other type of bipolar disorder.
The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance provides tell-tale signs that indicate a major depressive episode, which can last at least two weeks and present with at least five of the following symptoms:
- Sadness, crying spells
- Major changes in appetite and sleep patterns
- Irritability, anger
- Worry, anxiety
- Pessimism, indifference, feeling like nothing will ever go right
- Loss of energy, constant exhaustion
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and/or hopelessness
- Not able to concentrate or make decisions
- Not able to enjoy things you once liked, not wanting to socialize
- Excessive alcohol or drug use
- Recurring thoughts of death or suicide
A manic episode, which can present as enthusiasm or irritability, includes at least three of the following symptoms:
- Increased physical and mental activity and energy
- Extreme optimism and self-confidence
- Grandiose thoughts, increased sense of self-importance
- Irritability, anger
- Aggressive behavior
- Decreased need for sleep without feeling tired
- Racing speech, racing thoughts
- Impulsiveness, poor judgment
- Reckless behavior such as spending sprees, major business decisions, careless driving and sexual promiscuity
- In severe cases, delusions and hallucinations (thinking, seeing or hearing things that aren’t true or don’t exist)
If you notice any changes in yourself or a loved one, consult a doctor. Treatment can include medication, counseling, mindfulness training such as with Dialectic Behavior Therapy (DBT), and can make all the difference in your life.