Many people experience a lifelong tendency to substantial swings of mood (which may be referred to as bipolarity or cyclothymia). Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression or manic-depressive illness, refers to severe episodes of mood disturbance that affect a person’s ability to function normally.
Bipolar disorder is thought to affect 1 in every 100 adults at some time during their life, and men and women appear to be affected equally.
Bipolar disorder is characterised by disturbances in mood ranging from depression to elation. Although it may be enjoyable to have these ‘highs’ (feeling life is great, overconfident etc.) the symptoms often become unmanageable. These moods may also be accompanied by alterations in thinking and perception, including psychotic features (delusions and hallucinations). It is now well established that bipolar disorder runs in families and that genes play a role in influencing an individual’s susceptibility to the illness. Studies suggest that the brain systems involved in controlling our moods function differently in people who develop bipolar disorder and that things like life stress can play a major role in triggering mood episodes.
Bipolar disorder can cause a great deal of suffering and, although treatments such as medication and psychotherapy are helpful, there are still many people who do not adequately respond to treatments or who suffer troublesome side effects.
If you would like to find out more about bipolar disorder we have listed some useful websites and books that you may find helpful.