Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder or bipolar affective disorder, historically known as manic-depressive disorder, is a psychiatric diagnosis that describes a category of mood disorders defined by the presence of one or more episodes of abnormally elevated energy levels, cognition, and mood with or without one or more depressive episodes. The elevated moods are clinically referred to as mania or, if milder, hypomania. Individuals who experience manic episodes also commonly experience depressive episodes, or symptoms, or a mixed state in which features of both mania and depression are present at the same time.[1] These events are usually separated by periods of “normal” mood; but, in some individuals, depression and mania may rapidly alternate, which is known as rapid cycling. Severe manic episodes can sometimes lead to such psychotic symptoms as delusions andhallucinations. The disorder has been subdivided into bipolar Ibipolar IIcyclothymia, and other types, based on the nature and severity of mood episodes experienced; the range is often described as the bipolar spectrum.

Estimates of the lifetime prevalence of bipolar disorder vary, with studies typically giving values of the order of 1%, with higher figures given in studies with looser definitions of the condition.[2] The onset of full symptoms generally occurs in late adolescence or young adulthood. Diagnosis is based on the person’s self-reported experiences, as well as observed behavior. Episodes of abnormality are associated with distress and disruption and an elevated risk of suicide, especially during mixed and depressive episodes. In some cases, it can be a devastating long-lasting disorder. In others, it has also been associated with creativity, goal striving, and positive achievements. There is significant evidence to suggest that many people with creative talents have also suffered from some form of bipolar disorder.[3] It is often suggested that creativity and bipolar disorder are linked.

Genetic factors contribute substantially to the likelihood of developing bipolar disorder, and environmental factors are also implicated. Bipolar disorder is often treated with mood stabilizing medications and, sometimes, other psychiatric drugs. Psychotherapy also has a role, often when there has been some recovery of the subject’s stability. In serious cases, in which there is a risk of harm to oneself or others, involuntary commitment may be used. These cases generally involve severe manic episodes with dangerous behavior or depressive episodes with suicidal ideation. There are widespread problems with social stigmastereotypes, and prejudice against individuals with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.[4] People with bipolar disorder exhibiting psychotic symptoms can sometimes be misdiagnosed as having schizophrenia, another, different, serious mental illness.[5]

The current term bipolar disorder is of fairly recent origin and refers to the cycling between high and low episodes (poles). A relationship between mania and melancholia had long been observed, although the basis of the current conceptualisation can be traced back to French psychiatrists in the 1850s. The term “manic-depressive illness” or psychosis was coined by German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin in the late nineteenth century, originally referring to all kinds of mood disorder. German psychiatrist Karl Leonhard split the classification again in 1957, employing the terms unipolar disorder(major depressive disorder) and bipolar disorder.

Signs and symptoms

Bipolar disorder is a condition in which people experience intermittent abnormally elevated (manic or hypomanic) and, in many cases, abnormally depressed states for periods of time in a way that interferes with functioning. Not everyone’s symptoms are the same, and there is no simple physiological test to confirm the disorder. Bipolar disorder can appear to be unipolar depression. Diagnosing bipolar disorder is often difficult, even for mental health professionals. What distinguishes bipolar disorder from unipolar depression is that the affected person experiences states of mania and depression. Often bipolar is inconsistent among patients because some people feel depressed more often than not and experience little mania whereas others experience predominantly manic symptoms. Additionally, the younger the age of onset—bipolar disorder starts in childhood or early adulthood in most patients—the more likely the first few episodes are to be depression.[6] Because a bipolar diagnosis requires a manic or hypomanic episode, many patients are initially diagnosed and treated as having major depression.

Associated features

Associated features are clinical phenomena that often accompany the disorder but are not part of the diagnostic criteria for the disorder. There are several childhood precursors in children who later receive a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. They may show subtle early traits such as mood abnormalities, full major depressive episodes, and ADHD.[18] Bipolar disorder is also accompanied by changes in cognitive processes and abilities. These include reduced attentional and executive capabilities and impaired memory. How the individual processes the world also depends on the phase of the disorder, with differential characteristics between the manic, hypomanic and depressive states.[19] Some studies have found a significant association between bipolar disorder and creativity.[20] Some patients may have difficulty in maintaining relationships.[21]


Diagnosis is based on the self-reported experiences of an individual as well as abnormalities in behavior reported by family members, friends or co-workers, followed by secondary signs observed by a psychiatristnursesocial workerclinical psychologist or other clinician in a clinical assessment. There are lists of criteria for someone to be so diagnosed. These depend on both the presence and duration of certain signs and symptoms. Assessment is usually done on an outpatient basis; admission to an inpatient facility is considered if there is a risk to oneself or others. The most widely used criteria for diagnosing bipolar disorder are from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the current version being DSM-IV-TR, and the World Health Organization’s International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, currently the ICD-10. The latter criteria are typically used in Europe and other regions while the DSM criteria are used in the USA and other regions, as well as prevailing in research studies. The DSM-V, to be published in 2013, will likely include further and more accurate sub-typing.[44]

An initial assessment may include a physical exam by a physician. Although there are no biological tests which confirm bipolar disorder, tests may be carried out to exclude medical illnesses such as hypo- or hyperthyroidism, metabolic disturbance, a systemic infection or chronic disease, and syphilis or HIV infection. An EEG may be used to exclude epilepsy, and a CT scan of the head to exclude brain lesions. Investigations are not generally repeated for relapse unless there is a specific medical indication.

Several rating scales for the screening and evaluation of bipolar disorder exist, such as the Bipolar spectrum diagnostic scale.[45] The use of evaluation scales can not substitute a full clinical interview but they serve to systematize the recollection of symptoms.[45] On the other hand instruments for the screening of bipolar disorder have low sensitivity[disambiguation needed] and limited diagnostic validity.[45]

Criteria and subtypes

There is no clear consensus as to how many types of bipolar disorder exist.[46] In DSM-IV-TR and ICD-10, bipolar disorder is conceptualized as a spectrum of disorders occurring on a continuum. The DSM-IV-TR lists three specific subtypes and one for non-specified:[47][48]

Bipolar I disorder
One or more manic episodes. Subcategories specify whether there has been more than one episode, and the type of the most recent episode.[49] A depressive or hypomanic episode is not required for diagnosis, but it frequently occurs.
Bipolar II disorder
No manic episodes, but one or more hypomanic episodes and one or more major depressive episode.[50] However, a bipolar II diagnosis is not a guarantee that they will not eventually suffer from such an episode in the future.[citation needed] Hypomanic episodes do not go to the full extremes of mania (i.e., do not usually cause severe social or occupational impairment, and are without psychosis), and this can make bipolar II more difficult to diagnose, since the hypomanic episodes may simply appear as a period of successful high productivity and is reported less frequently than a distressing, crippling depression.
A history of hypomanic episodes with periods of depression that do not meet criteria for major depressive episodes.[51] There is a low-grade cycling of mood which appears to the observer as a personality trait, and interferes with functioning.
Bipolar Disorder NOS (Not Otherwise Specified)
This is a catchall category, diagnosed when the disorder does not fall within a specific subtype.[52] Bipolar NOS can still significantly impair and adversely affect the quality of life of the patient.

The bipolar I and II categories have specifiers that indicate the presentation and course of the disorder. For example, the “with full interepisode recovery” specifier applies if there was full remission between the two most recent episodes.[53]

Rapid cycling

Most people who meet criteria for bipolar disorder experience a number of episodes, on average 0.4 to 0.7 per year, lasting three to six months.[54] Rapid cycling, however, is a course specifier that may be applied to any of the above subtypes. It is defined as having four or more episodes per year and is found in a significant fraction of individuals with bipolar disorder. The definition of rapid cycling most frequently cited in the literature (including the DSM) is that of Dunner and Fieve: at least four major depressive, manic, hypomanic or mixed episodes are required to have occurred during a 12-month period.[55] Ultra-rapid (days) and ultra-ultra rapid or ultradian (within a day) cycling have also been described.[56]

Differential diagnosis

There are several other mental disorders which may involve similar symptoms to bipolar disorder. These include schizophreniaAttention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and other personality disorders.[57]


The experiences and behaviors involved in bipolar disorder are often not understood by individuals or recognized by mental health professionals, so diagnosis may sometimes be delayed for over 10 years.[58] The treatment lag is apparently not decreasing, even though there is increased public awareness of the condition.

Individuals are commonly misdiagnosed.[59][60]

It has been noted that the bipolar disorder diagnosis is officially characterised in historical terms such that, technically, anyone with a history of (hypo)mania and depression has bipolar disorder whatever their current or future functioning and vulnerability. This has been described as “an ethical and methodological issue”, as it means no one can be considered as being recovered (only “inremission“) from bipolar disorder according to the official criteria. This is considered especially problematic given that brief hypomanic episodes are widespread among people generally and not necessarily associated with dysfunction.[19]

Comorbid conditions

The diagnosis of bipolar disorder can be complicated by coexisting (comorbid) psychiatric conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disordersocial phobiapanic disorder and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorderSubstance abuse may predate the appearance of bipolar symptoms, further complicating the diagnosis. A careful longitudinal analysis of symptoms and episodes, enriched if possible by discussions with friends and family members, is crucial to establishing a treatment plan where these comorbidities exist.[61]


For many individuals with bipolar disorder a good prognosis results from good treatment, which, in turn, results from an accurate diagnosis. Because bipolar disorder can have a high rate of both under-diagnosis and misdiagnosis,[6] it is often difficult for individuals with the condition to receive timely and competent treatment.

Bipolar disorder can be a severely disabling medical condition. However, many individuals with bipolar disorder can live full and satisfying lives. Quite often, medication is needed to enable this. Persons with bipolar disorder may have periods of normal or near normal functioning between episodes.[82]

Prognosis depends on many factors such as the right medicines and dosage, comprehensive knowledge of the disease and its effects; a positive relationship with a competent medical doctor and therapist; and good physical health, which includes exercise, nutrition, and a regulated stress level. There are other factors that lead to a good prognosis, such as being very aware of small changes in a person’s energy, mood, sleep and eating behaviors.[83]


A recent 20-year prospective study on bipolar I and II found that functioning varied over time along a spectrum from good to fair to poor. During periods of major depression or mania (in BPI), functioning was on average poor, with depression being more persistently associated with disability than mania. Functioning between episodes was on average good — more or less normal. Subthreshold symptoms were generally still substantially impairing, however, except for hypomania (below or above threshold) which was associated with improved functioning.[84]

Another study confirmed the seriousness of the disorder as “the standardized all-cause mortality ratio among patients with bipolar disorder is increased approximately two-fold.” Bipolar disorder is currently regarded “as possibly the most costly category of mental disorders in the United States.” Episodes of abnormality are associated with distress and disruption, and an elevated risk ofsuicide, especially during depressive episodes.[85]

Recovery and recurrence

A naturalistic study from first admission for mania or mixed episode (representing the hospitalized and therefore most severe cases) found that 50% achieved syndromal recovery (no longer meeting criteria for the diagnosis) within six weeks and 98% within two years. Within two years, 72% achieved symptomatic recovery (no symptoms at all) and 43% achieved functional recovery (regaining of prior occupational and residential status). However, 40% went on to experience a new episode of mania or depression within 2 years of syndromal recovery, and 19% switched phases without recovery.[86]

Symptoms preceding a relapse (prodromal), specially those related to mania, can be reliably identified by people with bipolar disorder.[87] There have been intents to teach patients coping strategies when noticing such symptoms with encouraging results.[88]


Bipolar disorder can cause suicidal ideation that leads to suicidal attempts. One out of three people with bipolar disorder report past attempts of suicide or complete it,[89] and the annual average suicide rate is 0.4%, which is 10 to 20 times that of the general population.[90] The standardized mortality ratio from suicide in bipolar disorder is between 18 and 25.[91]


Variations in moods and energy levels have been observed as part of the human experience since time immemorial. The words “melancholia” (an old word for depression) and “mania” have their etymologies in Ancient Greek. The word melancholia is derived from melas/μελας, meaning “black”, andchole/χολη, meaning “bile” or “gall”,[101] indicative of the term’s origins in pre-Hippocratic humoral theories. Within the humoral theories, mania was viewed as arising from an excess of yellow bile, or a mixture of black and yellow bile. The linguistic origins of mania, however, are not so clear-cut. Several etymologies are proposed by the Roman physician Caelius Aurelianus, including the Greek word ania, meaning “to produce great mental anguish”, and manos, meaning “relaxed” or “loose”, which would contextually approximate to an excessive relaxing of the mind or soul.[102] There are at least five other candidates, and part of the confusion surrounding the exact etymology of the word mania is its varied usage in the pre-Hippocratic poetry and mythologies.[102]

The basis of the current conceptualisation of manic-depressive illness can be traced back to the 1850s; on January 31, 1854, Jules Baillarger described to the French Imperial Academy of Medicine a biphasic mental illness causing recurrent oscillations between mania and depression, which he termed folie à double forme (“dual-form insanity”).[103] Two weeks later, on February 14, 1854, Jean-Pierre Falret presented a description to the Academy on what was essentially the same disorder, and designated folie circulaire (“circular insanity“) by him.[104] The two bitterly disputed as to who had been the first to conceptualise the condition.

These concepts were developed by the German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin (1856–1926), who, using Kahlbaum‘s concept of cyclothymia,[105] categorized and studied the natural course of untreated bipolar patients. He coined the term manic depressive psychosis, after noting that periods of acute illness, manic or depressive, were generally punctuated by relatively symptom-free intervals where the patient was able to function normally.[106]

The term “manic-depressive reaction” appeared in the first American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic Manual in 1952, influenced by the legacy of Adolf Meyer who had introduced the paradigm illness as a reaction of biogenetic factors to psychological and social influences.[107] Subclassification of bipolar disorder was first proposed by German psychiatrist Karl Leonhard in 1957; he was also the first to introduce the terms bipolar (for those with mania) and unipolar(for those with depressive episodes only).[108]

Society and culture

There are widespread problems with social stigmastereotypes, and prejudice against individuals with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.[4] Kay Redfield Jamison, a clinical psychologist and Professor of Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, profiled her own bipolar disorder in her memoir An Unquiet Mind (1995).[109]

Several dramatic works have portrayed characters with traits suggestive of the diagnosis that has been the subject of discussion by psychiatrists and film experts alike. A notable example is Mr. Jones (1993), in which Mr. Jones (Richard Gere) swings from a manic episode into a depressive phase and back again, spending time in a psychiatric hospital and displaying many of the features of the syndrome.[110] In The Mosquito Coast(1986), Allie Fox (Harrison Ford) displays some features including recklessness, grandiosity, increased goal-directed activity and mood lability, as well as some paranoia.[111] Psychiatrists have suggested that Willy Loman, the main character in Arthur Miller‘s classic play Death of a Salesman, suffers from bipolar disorder,[112] though the term did not exist when the play was written.

TV specials, for example the BBC‘s The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive,[113] MTV’s True Life: I’m Bipolar, talk shows, and public radio shows, and the greater willingness of public figures to discuss their own bipolar disorder, have focused on psychiatric conditions, thereby, raising public awareness.

On April 7, 2009, the nighttime drama 90210 on the CW network, aired a special episode where the character Silver was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.[114]Stacey Slater, a character from the BBC soap EastEnders, has been diagnosed with the disorder. The storyline was developed as part of the BBC’s Headroom campaign.[115] The Channel 4 soap Brookside had earlier featured a story about bipolar disorder when the character Jimmy Corkhill was diagnosed with the condition.[116]



3 thoughts on “Bipolar Disorder

  1. Steven Olson says:

    I like this post, enjoyed this one thankyou for posting .

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