Bipolar disorder, or manic depression as it was once known, is an emotional disorder characterized by severe mood swings ranging from extreme highs (called “manias”) and extremely low depressions. Bipolar disorder is more than simply being “moody.” The mood swings experienced by someone with bipolar disorder are more severe and unpredictable than those experienced by someone who is simply “moody.”

Bipolar disorder is different from major depressive disorder in that a person with bipolar disorder experiences manias as well as major depressive episodes. Manias are characterized by the occurrence of three or more of the following symptoms presenting themselves for most of the day, almost every day, for one week or longer:

  • Increased energy, activity, and restlessness
  • Excessively “high,” overly good, euphoric mood
  • Extreme irritability
  • Subjective experience of racing thoughts, jumping quickly from one idea to another
  • Noticeable increase in talkativeness, rapid speech, and feeling pressure to keep talking
  • Easily distracted
  • Decreased need for sleep, feeling rested and energetic after just a few hours sleep
  • Grandiose thinking and unrealistic beliefs in one’s own abilities
  • Impulsive behavior, taking risks without thought of the consequences
  • Increased sexual drive
  • Provocative, intrusive, or aggressive behavior
  • Increased goal-oriented activity, starting lots of projects and a need to constantly be working on something

Essentially, during a manic episode, someone suffering with bipolar disorder will feel sped up. The main indicators of mania are a speedy feeling, irrational thinking, and dangerous impulsive behavior that puts the person at great physical or emotional risk.

Someone with bipolar disorder will also experience at least one major depressive episode. A major depressive episode is characterized by the presence of three or more of the following symptoms:

  • A markedly low mood
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, loss of pleasure
  • Noticeable increase or decrease in appetite
  • Gaining or losing a noticeable amount of weight
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Feeling slowed down or agitated
  • Feelings of extreme fatigue
  • Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness or guilt
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Indecisiveness
  • Thoughts of suicide, death, plans of suicide or actual suicide attempts

Bipolar II exhibits the same symptoms in a less severe form. In cases of full-blown bipolar disorder, manic episodes will often involve delusional or psychotic disturbances and warrant hospitalization. Bipolar II disorder is characterized by hypomanias, a less extreme form of mania that never results in psychotic or delusional breaks from reality and won’t precipitate hospitalization or impair functioning to an extreme degree.

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