Bipolar disorder (manic depression) is a treatable biological medical condition that affects people of all genders, races, ages, and income levels. Roughly 5.7 million Americans (or 2.6% of the population) live with the condition. Bipolar disorder runs in families: more than two-thirds of people with bipolar disorder have at least one close relative with the condition or with major depression. Bipolar disorder can be mild to severe.

In addition to having periods of depression, people with bipolar disorder have periods of high energy where they can be happy or irritable. These mood swings can cycle in minutes or days or months.

Manic (high energy) symptoms include

  • Increased energy and decreased need for sleep
  • Excessive irritability, or euphoria, or aggressive behavior
  • Increased talkativeness or rapid speech
  • Disconnected and racing thoughts
  • Impulsive behavior and poor judgment such as spending sprees, erratic driving, or sexual indiscretions
  • Inflated self-esteem
  • Increased goal-directed activities
  • Distractibility.

There are many successful, smart, and creative people with bipolar disorder - such as business leaders, actors, artists, and politicians - who, with treatment, lead healthy lives. Unfortunately, bipolar disorder is vastly under-diagnosed and under-treated. On average, a person spends 8 years seeking treatment before bipolar disorder is diagnosed. During that time a person suffers needlessly and is at risk for suicide.

Fifty percent of people with bipolar disorder lack insight or do not realize they are ill. For example, they may believe they are a "high energy person." Often they only go to a doctor complaining of their depression, so the doctor does not realize they also have periods of mania. Therefore, it is essential that family members and friends report manic symptoms to the doctor, so that they can make an accurate diagnosis.

People with bipolar disorder can be effectively treated with medication (e.g., mood stabilizer), a different class of medication than antidepressants. Antidepressants alone can sometimes make their condition worse (International Society for Bipolar Disorders, task force on antidepressant use in bipolar disorders, American Journal of Psychiatry, November 2013). Along with medication, therapy (family-focused therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and/or individual therapy) is proven to be effective.

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