What is bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder I is the more severe disorder in terms of symptoms- with individuals being more likely to experience mania, have longer ‘highs’, be more likely to have psychotic experiences and be more likely to be hospitalised.
Bipolar disorder II is diagnosed when a person experiences the symptoms of a high but with no psychotic experiences. These hypomanic episodes tending to last a few hours or a few days, but longitudinal studies suggest impairment is often as severe as in bipolar I disorder.
The high moods are called mania or hypomania and the low mood is called depression.
However, it is important to note that everyone has mood swings from time to time. It is only when these moods become extreme and interfere with personal and professional life that bipolar disorder may be present and a psychiatric assessment may be warranted.
Other key points about bipolar disorder
- Occasionally people can experience a mixture of both highs and lows at the same time, or switch during the day, giving a mixed picture.
- Some people may only have one episode of mania once a decade, while others may have daily mood swings. For each individual the pattern is quite distinct.
- People with bipolar disorder can experience normal moods in between their swings but the majority experience some low level symptoms between episodes..
- Women and men develop bipolar I disorder at equal rates while the rate of bipolar II is somewhat higher in females.
- Bipolar disorder can commence in childhood, but onset is commoner in the teens or early 20s. Some people develop their first episode in mid-to-late adulthood. Many people can go for years before it is accurately diagnosed or treated (see How to tell if you have bipolar disorder)
- Women with bipolar disorder have a very high chance of a significant mood disturbance both during pregnancy and in the post-partum period – most commonly in the first four weeks. (Most will have a depressive episode, a significant proportion will have highs, and 10% will have mixed highs and lows.)
- With the right treatment, the vast majority of people with bipolar disorder are able to live normal and productive lives.