What Is Bipolar Disorder? Normalizing Mental Illnesses

Bipolar or Manic Depressive disorder is a mood disorder that goes beyond the normal ups and downs that we face in our lives to extremes, where periods of happiness are followed quickly by severe depressions. While work is being done to remove the stigma from mental illnesses, some mental disorders, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, continue to have a type of black cloud around them, causing people to be wary and even afraid of people who suffer from these mental illnesses. It’s important that, as a society, we work to get rid of this stigma and normalize mental illnesses. Bipolar disorder is treatable, and with the proper medication and help, those who suffer can lead full and fulfilling lives.

What Is Bipolar Disorder?
What Is Bipolar Disorder?

In an effort to reduce the stigma related to bipolar disorder, some famous actors and singers have spoken out about their own experiences with mental illness. It is their hope that through sharing their stories, it will give others the courage to seek help. Two of these celebrities are British actor Stephen Fry, and singer/songwriter Demi Lovato, who share the stories of their struggles and talk about how they have been working to overcome this lifelong illness. Demi Lovato uses her star status to promote her cause. Her website bevocalspeakup.com has information about bipolar disorder and support systems available to those who are suffering. Before we jump into their stories, we should give you some more information about what bipolar disorder actually is.

What Are Some Signs And Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

As I mentioned earlier, bipolar disorder is a mood disorder characterized by extreme changes in mood. Feelings of intense happiness, or a manic state, is when the person is overexcited and elated, while depressive feelings are called depressive episodes.

Symptoms of a manic episode

Mood changes:

  • Feeling of happiness, outgoing
  • Irritability

Behavioral changes:

  • Changing conversation topics randomly, jumping from one idea to another
  • Easily distracted
  • Taking on new projects
  • Restlessness
  • Little sleep or insomnia
  • Being over-confident in one’s abilities
  • Impulsive or dangerous behavior
Symptoms of a depressive episode
Symptoms of a depressive episode

Symptoms of a depressive episode

Mood changes:

  • Long period of sadness or hopelessness
  • Loss of interest in activities, including sex

Behavioral changes:

  • Fatigue or tiredness
  • Problems concentrating or making decisions
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Change in eating, sleeping, or other habits
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions

 The NIMH says that “a mood episode includes symptoms of both mania and depression. This is called a mixed state.” In this state, you are both energized and hopeless. During a mixed state, you might be irritable, have insomnia, experience appetite changes, and have suicidal thoughts.

Types of Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder has varying levels, depending on the severity of the symptoms. According to the DSM IV manual, there are four different types of bipolar disorder.

Bipolar I Disorder- Manic or mixed episodes that last about a week, or manic symptoms that require hospitalization. The person usually suffers from depressive episodes that last about 2 weeks.

Bipolar II Disorder- Depressive and hypomanic episodes, but no full manic or mixed episodes.

Bipolar Not Otherwise Specified (BP-NOS)- Symptoms of the disorder exist, but do not meet criteria or either of the previous two classifications.

Cyclothymic Disorder or Cyclothymia- Mild form of bipolar disorder. Episodes of hypomania and mild depression that last for at least 2 years.

As you can see, bipolar disorder has different levels and classifications, and while there are shared symptoms, people experience this disorder differently.

Below is a video of Stephen Fry talking about his ongoing battle with bipolar disorder.

As a successful and well-known actor, most people will never think that he was suffering from a debilitating mental illness. He however, recalls being a teenager and having suicidal thoughts. “It came as quite a shock to me to find out that these suicidal thoughts that I had were actually rare, that these were not the norm.”. For many people, realizing that something is wrong is a big step to getting help. Before this point, Fry did not know that he had any problem.

He goes on to talk about going through a depressive state. In the clip, we see that he is performing and talking about living with his mental illness. In the middle of these performances, he entered a depressive state.“...I find it very difficult to meet peoples eyes, I find it very difficult to connect with people. I just want to be alone, frankly.” Fry says that, even with medication and therapy, he goes through these dark periods 3 to 4 times a year and usually last about 7-10 days.

Bipolar depression is treatable. Someone suffering and learn to have a completely normal life. Learning how to manage the manic and depressive symptoms and finding the right kind of treatment can be the difference between an unbearable state and a normal life. Now knowing a little more about the disorder, we can learn and work to have compassion for others suffering.

“Mood to me is like weather. If it’s raining, it’s no good saying it isn’t raining. It is real. That water falling from the sky is actually falling from the sky.”

Source National Institute for Mental Health

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