The Ups and Downs of Bipolar Disorder

Let’s be honest.  How many times have we jokingly chided someone for acting “bipolar” as if being bipolar was something to joke about? When a person’s mood quickly shifts from ecstatic one minute to unreasonably depressed the next—we easily quip: “She’s so bipolar” or “He’s a bipolar bear.”

Bipolar disorder is one example of a mental condition we may banter about lightly, but know very little about except when casually mentioned in pop culture and in media.  It is without a doubt that the irreverence we express for the illness undeniably casts a social stigma and does very little to help raise awareness and understanding about the gravity and complications of mental health disorders and conditions.  Due to this lack of understanding, the plight of people suffering from mental conditions and illnesses are not properly addressed or treated, leading to further deterioration, adversely affecting their health and well being. In serious cases, when left undiagnosed or untreated, some may even attempt or end in suicide.

Bipolar disorder, also called manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out daily tasks.  Unlike the normal emotional ‘ups and downs’ that everyone goes through from time to time,  symptoms of bipolar disorder are more severe — characterized by alternating periods of mania, depression, and normal mood, each lasting for weeks or months at a time.

Signs and Symptoms

The primary characteristic of bipolar disorder is the manic episode. Manic episodes alternate with depressive episodes, which may be more frequent. Symptoms for manic episodes include:

  • Euphoria
  • Inflated self-esteem
  • Rapid speech
  • Racing thoughts
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Agitation or irritation
  • Increased physical activity
  • Easily distracted
  • Careless or dangerous use of drugs or alcohol
  • Delusions or a break from reality (psychosis)

On the other hand, symptoms for depressive episodes include:

  • Hopelessness
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Guilty or anxiety
  • Sleeping problems
  • Change in appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Problems concentrating
  • Chronic pain without a known cause
  • Poor work or school performance

Bipolar disorder symptoms can result in damaged relationships, poor job or school performance, and even attempts of suicide. Unknown to most, bipolar disorder can be treated, and people with this illness are able to lead full and productive lives.

The label “bipolar” has also been applied to prepubertal children disabled by intense, unstable moods. However, in the case of these young children, the mood states last from moments to days. In both cases, diagnosis for bipolar disorder is through history and a mental status examination. Bipolar disorder may begin in mid-adolescence through the mid-20s. For children, about a third of those who have suffered an episode or more of depression before they reached the age of puberty may develop bipolar disorder during adolescence or early adulthood than those who did not.


Bipolar disorder tends to run in families. Some research has suggested that people with certain genes are more likely to develop bipolar disorder than others. Children with a parent or sibling who has bipolar disorder are much more likely to develop the illness, compared with children who do not have a family history of bipolar disorder. However, most children with a family history of bipolar disorder will not develop the illness.


For adolescents and prepubertal children, mood stabilizers are used to treat manic episodes, and psychotherapy and antidepressants treat the depressive episodes. Since bipolar disorder is a cyclic condition, the length, frequency and severity of the disorder need to be taken into account before selecting treatment. Only a few patients of bipolar disorder alternate back and forth between mania and depression during each cycle; in most cycles, one or the other predominates.

The manic episodes that comes out from having a bipolar disorder should not be regarded without due consideration. Bipolar disorder can impair a patient’s ability to function in everyday situations. If these episodes have become disruptive to their health and well being, it would be advisable for them to seek medical help from a healthcare professional. Bipolar disorder is treatable and many of those with bipolar disorder can live life productively.


– Mayo Clinic. “Bipolar disorder.” Symptoms.
– “Bipolar Disorder in Children and Adolescents.” Mental Disorders in Children and Adolescents: Merck Manual Professional.
– Mental Disorders in Children and Adolescents: Merck Manual Professional.

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