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An Emotional Roller Coaster A Look at Bipolar Disorder


Chances are, if you read a health-related story from your favorite news site, it will probably be about the physical challenges facing the body, such as disease, injury and just plain aging. While no one denies that such attention is warranted, it can have the effect of overshadowing issues of the mind. Millions of Americans suffer from chronic and often-debilitating mental conditions, such as depression, social anxiety and schizophrenia. One such condition that has entered the mainstream lexicon is bipolar disorder, a malady that affects some 5.7 million Americans.

From Joy to Depression

In the past, you might have heard the term "bipolar" jokingly used to describe someone throwing a fit or acting in an immature manner. Though such quips might be in bad taste, they do allude to one of the main symptoms of bipolar disorder. Simply put, people with this condition lack control of their emotions, resulting in sudden and severe mood swings. These unexpected mood shifts can cripple a person's relationships with other people; they might explode at coworkers, feud with their partners and alienate their friends with emotional outbursts.

The mood swings bipolar sufferers endure can be divided into two categories, known as "manic episodes" and "depressive episodes." Common symptoms of a manic episode (also known as "manias") include overly happy and extroverted emotions. While this may not seem like that big of a problem, manias can cause a person to be excessively confident in their own abilities, to the point where they relentlessly pursue unrealistic and unattainable goals. Manic episodes can also cause sufferers to behave irrationally and impulsively, prompting the patient to engage in risky behaviors they otherwise would have avoided.

At the opposite end of the bipolar emotional spectrum are depressive episodes. As one might expect, a patient trudging through a depressive episode will often look dejected, downbeat and miserable. Depressive episodes can strip patients of their passions for their favorite activities, and the patient's sex drive might plummet to the point of being virtually nonexistent. Bipolar sufferers also report greatly diminished abilities to concentrate, remember certain facts and make decisions. In severe cases, a patient may serious contemplate or even attempt suicide.

These extreme emotional shifts can not only wreak havoc with a person's mental state, but they can also do so for long periods of time. At a minimum, both manic and depressive episode tend to last for about two weeks. Without proper treatment, manic episodes can linger for four months, and episodes of depression can persist up to nine months.

Warning Signs

A person tends to exhibit the initial symptoms of bipolar disorder relatively early in life. It is estimated that approximately half of all bipolar patients begin to feel the onset of the condition before the age of 25. When these symptoms first appear, they may me mistaken for simply an unrelated series of emotional problems. Consequentially, many people with bipolar disorder can suffer for years without getting proper diagnosis and treatment.

While it may be difficult to determine if a friend or loved one has bipolar disorder, there are some symptoms that can help put the pieces of the puzzle tighter.

Extreme Mood-related Behavior - While everyone goes through periods when they are downbeat, euphoric or angry, people developing bipolar disorder tend to take the actions associated with such emotions to a whole new level. For example, a person in the throes of a depressive episode might become so disillusioned that they refuse to get out of bed. Conversely, someone in the midst of a mania might attempt to accomplish something impossible, like finding a cure for baldness.

Poor Dietary and Sleeping Habits - The manic and depressive episodes associated with bipolar disorder frequently disrupt a patient's sleeping and eating patterns. An episode of depression might spend most of the day in bed, and show little interest in eating regular meals. On the flip side of the coin, mania episodes can provide patients with seemingly endless amounts of energy, allowing them to function at high levels even on little sleep. This ample supply of energy causes many bipolar patients to skimp on sleep during their manic episodes.

Poor Performance in the Office - In addition to damaging personal relationships, bipolar disorder can also derail careers. Periods of depression can lead to unmotivated workers, whose apathy causes them to fall behind on projects and arrive late to work. Manias, in contrast, can prompt employees to be overly aggressive and irritable, and might pursue goals that are completely unrealistic.

A Lack of Caution and Judgment - As mentioned earlier, bipolar patients are very susceptible to impulsive behavior during their manic periods. Examples of manic behavior include reckless spending, alcohol and drug abuse, repeatedly engaging in unprotected sex and drinking while driving.


In modern times, bipolar patients are often treated with anticonvulsant medications. This may seems like an odd choice, given that anticonvulsants are commonly used as seizure medications. However, theses medications also have the effect of stabilizing human emotions, thereby greatly lessening the impact of bipolar mood swings. Another tool that has long been used to alleviate bipolar episodes is Lithium, a medication specifically tailored to reign in runaway emotions. Not surprisingly, both anticonvulsants and Lithium carry a number of side effects; the former can cause dry mouth, indigestion, joint/muscle pain and brittle nails and hair, while the latter can lead to drowsiness, dizziness, headache, heartburn, digestive problems and mood swings.

Like other conditions that attack the mind, there is no silver bullet medication for bipolar disorder. A doctor may have to try several medicines before finding one the yields meaningful results. To make this task somewhat easier, patients are sometimes urged to keep a daily log of their emotional state, complete with their sleeping patterns, reactions to significant events and their responses to certain medications. While none of these medications completely eliminate the symptoms of bipolar disorder, they can allow patients have better control of their emotional state.

Bipolar disorder can be a miserable condition, one that impacts every part of the patient's life. Through proper medical care, it is possible for people afflicted with bipolar disorder to reassert a degree of control over their lives. ...

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