You’ve likely heard the term “bipolar disorder,” but how much do you really know about it?
The intense symptoms of bipolar disorder can make it an easy target for stigmatization. What individuals may not realize is that with treatment, many with bipolar disorder—including singer Mariah Carey, actor Mel Gibson and TV host Jane Pauley—can enjoy fulfilling, productive lives.
Here are four facts that can help demystify what, for many people, remains a mysterious illness:
1. Bipolar disorder is varied and episodic. Mood episodes lasting days or weeks are the condition’s defining features. They are periods when individuals feel extremely “high” (manic episodes) or “low” (depressive episodes). In times of mania, people with bipolar disorder can feel as if life is in overdrive—they may have lots of energy, think and talk quickly, and feel jumpy. Periods of depression can bring intense fatigue, altered sleep patterns and feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness. Some people experience features of both mania and depression at the same time, and others have hypomanic episodes—less severe forms of mania.
2. A clear-cut cause remains elusive. Researchers speculate that a variety of factors, including brain structure and function, exposure to extreme stress, family history, and certain genes, may play a role in the development of bipolar disorder, but more work is needed to know for sure.
3. Bipolar disorder can hide in plain sight. That’s because its symptoms can mimic those of other diseases, especially depression and schizophrenia. A mental health professional can diagnose bipolar disorder and help rule out other conditions by talking with patients, conducting physical exams and ordering laboratory tests.
4. The sooner treatment begins, the better. Bipolar disorder often gets worse the longer it goes untreated, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Although no cure exists, bipolar disorder is treatable. Medication, such as mood-stabilizing drugs, and talk therapy are two treatments that can help control it.