Ups And Downs: Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Illustration woman sides of bipolar disorder

Have you ever seen someone struggle to make a decision, change their mind in rapid succession, and laugh it off, saying “I’m so bipolar”?

While that label can get thrown around casually, bipolar disorder is a very real and sometimes dangerous condition. A basic overview can help us understand the condition’s symptoms and effects on everyday life.

The key features of this disorder are cycling periods of mania (or hypomania, which is less intense than mania) and depression. Manic periods are characterized by euphoria, recklessness, energy, and restlessness. People experiencing mania or hypomania are more likely to make risky decisions, not sleep enough, and have trouble focusing.

Depressive periods are characterized by disinterest in life, sadness, loss of energy, lack of appetite, and even sometimes suicidal ideation (see HERE and HERE for more on depression). The symptoms are broadly the opposite of manic symptoms but can impact one’s daily life just as severely.

There are several disorders in this cluster that are all characterized to varying extents by these periods of mania, hypomania, and depression. The good news is that bipolar disorders are treatable, most often through a combination of medication and therapy. If any of these symptoms sound familiar to you and are impacting your life, talk to your doctor. There is no shame in seeking help.

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or text HOME to 741741 to chat with a crisis counselor.