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Q:  Hello i have only recently heard of Bipolar Depression, a very good friend of mine's Sister has it and i would like to know more about this condition so that i can try to understand what she and her family are going through please.

Many thanks, 

Dear D,

     The key characteristic of bipolar disorder is extreme mood swings, from manic highs to severe depressions.  It is called a mood disorder because it profoundly affects a person's experiences of emotion and "affect" or the way he or she conveys emotions to others.  It is called bipolar because the mood swings occur between two poles- high and low- as opposed to unipolar disorder where mood swings occur along only one pole- the lows.

     In the manic or "high" state, people experience different combinations of the following: elated mood ( excessive happiness), irritable mood (excessive anger and touchiness), a decreased need for sleep, an inflated sense of themselves and their abilities, increased talkativeness, racing thoughts, or jumping from one idea to another, an increase in activity and energy levels, changes in thinking, attention, and perception, and impulsive, reckless behavior.  These episodes alternate with intervals in which a person becomes depressed, sad, blue, or "down in the dumps", feels fatigued, has difficulty sleeping, feels guilty and bad about him- or herself, has trouble concentrating or making decisions, and often feels like committing suicide.

     Episodes of mania or depression can last anywhere from days to months.  Their severity varies greatly from person to person.  The periods in between manic and depressive episodes are symptom-free in some people.  For others, there are symptoms left over from the episodes, such as sleep disturbance, ongoing irritability, or dysthymic or hypomanic disorders.  Most people experience problems in their social and work life because of the illness.

Recommended Reading:
Loving Someone With Bipolar Disorder:  Julie A. Fast, 2004.
The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide, David J. Miklowitz, 2002.

David Schafer, M.Ed.
Staff Psychologist

Published June, 2006

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