By Ivy Loney, DBH, LMSW —

Bipolar Disorder often starts in late adolescence or early adulthood and effects a little over 4% of the population. Let’s break down the word bipolar, bi means two. Polar means opposite. Think of the North and South Pole. They are on opposite sides of the globe. Bipolar can be thought of as two poles, the poles being moods: depressed and overexcited (as you will learn later, this is known as mania or in some cases hypomania).Bipolar disorder is diagnosed by the person’s symptoms and behaviors which include mood swings (or opposite poles), which are often extreme. Some moods change quickly in rapid cycling and some more slowly, shifting between days or weeks of depression and then extremely excited moods and behaviors.  Some people have mixed episodes meaning at the same time they are depressed they also have the excited mood.

Type one has more severe manic episodes that last longer than a week. Mania (manic episode) often looks like a really hyper/excited mood, but not your ordinary excited about spring or summer vacation hyper. This is more severe and can keep someone from falling asleep (sometimes for days), cause the person to have racing thoughts, or to talk really fast and have a lot of random thoughts all at once (called flights of ideas), or to be risky with their behavior (spending a lot of money, binge drinking, using drugs, or having unsafe sex). Sometimes the manic episode can be so extreme the person may need to be hospitalized for their safety. In type 2 the person will experience more of the depressive episodes and the hyper moods are often less extreme and don’t last as long, known as hypomania.  Cyclothymic Disorder (Cyclothymia) is similar to bipolar disorder in that it is about mood swings or cycles, as seen in the name, cyclo meaning cycle and thymia meaning mood. The main difference is the kind of symptoms and behaviors a person experiences and how severe. Cyclothymic disorder or unspecified bipolar disorder are used as diagnosis when symptoms don’t fully match up with bipolar one or two.

All of these diagnosis can be treated with a combination of counseling/therapy and medication. People often say their moods become more level and stable and that they feel better over time. It can be hard sometimes to diagnose a person with bipolar disorder because there may also be substance use/abuse or other medical conditions which can create similar moods and behaviors. If you or someone you know is experiencing some of these symptoms it is always good to get a check-up with your doctor, talk to a behavioral health professional, or an adult you trust.


References: National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)