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Bipolar disorder is one of the most misunderstood mental illnesses. However, the reality of this disorder is much more subtle than it may seem. It goes beyond intense sadness or extreme happiness.
If movies and TV shape your understanding of bipolar disorder, then you might have a view of only a small population of people with this illness. Even the experiences of outspoken bipolar celebrities such as Demi Lovato and Carrie Fisher are only a drop in the vast ocean of this disorder.
Here are 23 interesting facts about bipolar disorder with the hope that you might learn something new and understand this disorder better. Keen to know more? Let’s dive in.
Fun Fact: Carrie Fisher’s photo is in the Abnormal Psychology textbook under the bipolar disorder heading.
23 Interesting Facts About Bipolar Disorder
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From the ancient history of bipolar disorder to the different types, there are many interesting things about this mental illness that are not very well known. Here are some of the most fascinating facts.
1. Bipolar Disorder Is Characterized by Dramatic Shifts in Mood That Lead to Certain Behaviors
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), these shifts are called mood episodes. There are two main types, known as manic episodes and depressive episodes. This is why Bipolar used to be referred to as manic depression.
In 1980, the shift in terminology from manic depression to bipolar disorder began. Patients diagnosed with this illness were referred to as maniacs, and to decrease the stigma around it, the name was changed to bipolar disorder.
2. Bipolar Disorder Does Not Only Affect Your Mood
Bipolar is a mood disorder; the main symptoms are changes in your emotional state and mood. However, that’s not the only part of this illness.
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Severe depressive and manic episodes can take a physical toll on the body. With mania comes a decreased need for sleep, which comes with many problems. Lack of sleep increases the risk of accidents, weight gain, heart disease, memory issues, and more. A good night’s rest is incredibly important for your mental health and can affect your physical health as well.
Depressive episodes can cause weight loss due to a lack of appetite and fatigue. Suicidal behaviors increase during both of these episodes. People in manic episodes also tend to take more risks which can result in injury or even death.
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3. There Are Different Types of Bipolar Disorder
Mental health professionals recognize four types of bipolar disorder. These are:
- Bipolar I: The criteria for this type is having experienced at least one manic episode lasting at least one week.
- Bipolar II: The criteria for this type is having experienced at least one depressive episode that lasted at least two weeks. Hypomania, a milder form of mania, is associated with this type and usually lasts a minimum of four days.
- Cyclothymic Disorder: This is a mild form of bipolar disorder and usually gets diagnosed in someone who shows signs of bipolar, but the symptoms are not severe enough to be classed as one of the first two types.
- Unspecified and Otherwise Specified Bipolar Disorder: Someone with symptoms of bipolar disorder that don’t fit into the first three types will be diagnosed with this type.
4. It Has a Long History, Dating Back to Ancient Times
The earliest documentation of bipolar disorder dates back to the second century. Ancient Greek Aretaeus of Cappadocia is known as the forgotten physician, and he identified mania and melancholia (or depression) back then. He affirmed that there were two forms of the same condition and believed they share a common link.
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Aretaeus even noted the symptoms of this condition, which included grandiose thinking, insomnia, intense bouts of anger, heavy sadness, excess joy, and dark thoughts. All of these are now certified symptoms of bipolar disorder.
In 1686 a Swiss physician, Théophile Bonet, also made a link between mania and melancholia. He referred to this condition as manico-melancolicus, which basically translates to manic depression. This proves bipolar disorder has been studied for a very long time.
You might want to read my article on Schizophrenia Facts.
5. Some Modern Treatments Also Go Back to Ancient Times
The ancient Romans and Greeks used the spas water in Northern Italy to treat patients struggling with euphoria or agitation. Because the water contained lithium salts, they believed it to help treat mania and melancholia. These minerals occur naturally in the water, which they thought could be absorbed into the body to treat these ailments.
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As strange as this sounds, the Romans and Greeks knew what was up because they were right. In 1949 John Cade, an Australian physicist, introduced lithium to the world of psychiatry. To this day, lithium is one of the most popular treatments for bipolar disorder.
6. Aristotle Linked Mood Disorders With Creativity
Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle is recognized as the father of the scientific method, rhetoric, psychology, and more. He was one of the first documented people to acknowledge the link between intense emotions and creativity.
He thanked melancholia, or depression, for inspiring many artists, poets, and creative geniuses. To this day, the link between bipolar disorder, depression, etc., and creativity is quite a controversial topic.
7. Genetics, Health, and Life Events Can Increase Your Risk
Bipolar disorder does not discriminate — anyone can develop it. However, like most health issues, some factors increase your risk of getting this disorder. Firstly, it’s been proven to have a genetic link. If someone in your immediate family is diagnosed with bipolar disorder increases your risk.
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Life events can also trigger bipolar disorder. If you go through something traumatic or a very stressful time, your risk also increases. Finally, health issues such as heart disease and obesity are also thought to increase the risk of triggering bipolar disorder.
8. The Genetic Link Was Recognized in the 1800s
Thanks to the work of Jean-Pierre Falret, a French psychiatrist, bipolar disorder was established as a diagnosable illness. Falret identified folie circulaire, or circular insanity, in the early 1850s. This referred to manic and depressive episodes separated by mood stability periods. He also made the distinction between elevated mood states and regular depression.
In 1875, manic-depressive psychosis was accepted as a psychiatric disorder because of his work. His work also showed that a genetic link might be associated with this new condition as it seemed to run in families. He advocated for various treatment combinations to create an effective treatment plan.
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9. People With Bipolar Disorder Do Not All Show the Same Symptoms
There’s a set list of criteria to diagnose bipolar disorder, and symptoms are laid out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). However, not everyone experiences the same symptoms or even all of them.
Depending on the type of bipolar disorder someone has, the symptoms can look very different. Someone with bipolar I could have experienced many depressive episodes or none at all.
People with bipolar II might have more severe hypomanic episodes than others. Some might partake in risky sexual encounters, while others might spend all of their money buying clothes. It presents differently for each person.
10. Manic and Depressive Episodes Can Overlap
It’s well known that bipolar induces manic episodes and depressive episodes — the so-called highs and lows. However, most of the time, these episodes overlap, and people can feel symptoms of both types of episodes at the same time. This experience is called mixed mania or mixed state, which usually happens when one episode turns into the other.
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11. Manic Episodes Are More Than Just Being Happy and Excited
Manic episodes are usually treated as the “happy episodes” of bipolar disorder. However, they can be more dangerous than depressive episodes and don’t always include elevated happiness levels.
Symptoms of mania can include elevated energy levels, irritability, speaking too fast, feeling jumpy or wired, and trying to do too many things at once. People generally engage in risky behaviors such as drug use, unprotected sex, or taking financial risks more often than when they have a depressive episode.
12. Depressive Episodes Can Look Like Major Depression
Depressive episodes in people with bipolar disorder are practically indistinguishable from major depression. Unless you know someone’s medical history and have worked with them over a long period of time, determining whether they have major depression or bipolar disorder is not easy.
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Generally, the symptoms of a bipolar depressive episode can include suicidal thoughts, decreased energy and activity levels, sleeping too much or too little, trouble concentrating, and changes in appetite. These sound very similar to the symptoms of major depression, right?
13. Bipolar is Often Misdiagnosed As Something Else
People don’t usually seek help for their manic episodes and would rather see a therapist about depressive episodes. This means bipolar disorder can be misdiagnosed as depression, especially if someone doesn’t realize they also have manic episodes.
The symptoms of bipolar disorder also overlap with borderline personality disorder, and these two are often misdiagnosed as each other. Bipolar disorder can also go unnoticed for a very long time.
People with bipolar I can go their entire lives without experiencing a debilitating depressive episode. And if they don’t know they’re having manic episodes, they usually won’t seek help.
14. Manic Episodes Don’t Always Lead to an Increase in Productivity
People might think a manic episode always makes someone more productive. And the person in the episode might also think they’re being very productive, only to realize they barely did anything once they’re out of it.
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The racing of thoughts and attempts to do many things at once feels incredibly productive to the person while they’re in a manic episode. However, just because someone is doing a lot of projects in a short time doesn’t mean there is good quality output or completion of the task.
15. The Length of Episodes Vary From Person to Person
According to the official criteria, two weeks is the minimum for a depressive episode, and one week is the minimum for mania. However, there’s no fixed range, and people with bipolar disorder have experienced different time frames when it comes to these episodes. Even in the same person, one episode can be completely different from the next one.
16. Bipolar Disorder Does Not Just Have Manic and Depressive Episodes
Manic and depressive episodes are part of the criteria for bipolar disorder. However, it’s not the only part of it. There are periods in between these episodes that are known as neutral moods. This is where the person regains a sense of normality and might not show many symptoms of their disorder until the next episode comes along.
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There’s also rapid cycling, where the time between episodes is short and can overlap. During this time, people can experience manic-depressive episodes, when symptoms of both mania and depression are shown simultaneously.
17. Children Can Get Diagnosed With Bipolar Disorder
The symptoms of bipolar disorder usually start in late adolescence or early adulthood. The average onset is around 25 years old. However, it can begin at any age. The symptoms of this disorder can be missed in children, though, as the signs are quite different when compared to those in their adult counterparts.
Depressive episodes can result in violent fits that continue for a while. Mania can come across as hyperactivity and extreme happiness, which is usually normal for children depending on their age and personality. The problem is when it interferes with their daily lives.
18. Pregnancy Can Make Symptoms Worse
The risk of having a manic or depressive episode is higher in pregnant women due to changes in stress, hormones, and other factors (such as lack of sleep). The risk is even greater in the postpartum period due to fluctuating hormone levels, stress, hormones returning to their normal levels, or even just the trauma of childbirth.
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19. Bipolar Disorder Can Be Comorbid With Health Issues
Bipolar disorder is usually diagnosed alongside anxiety disorders and eating disorders. Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can also be comorbid with bipolar. This disorder can also increase the chances of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.
20. There Isn’t a Known Single Cause of Bipolar Disorder
Scientists have yet to pinpoint the exact cause of bipolar disorder and which genes are involved in developing this illness. There’s still a lot about the brain’s structure and functioning that is not entirely understood.
Thus, the risk factors for bipolar disorder are determined through pattern recognition, such as the fact that it runs in families, until an exact cause can be determined.
21. Medication Is a Common Treatment, but the Type and Dosage Also Vary From Person to Person
Medication is one of the main treatment options for people with bipolar disorder, as they’ll usually need the help of mood stabilizers to be able to function in their daily lives. These stabilizers work by lowering the amount of abnormal activity in the brain over time.
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However, because everyone’s brains are different, the amount of abnormal activity can also differ from person to person. Thus, not every medication will work for every person, and the dosages will need adjusting throughout the treatment period until the right regimen is found. Lithium, valproic acid, and divalproex sodium are commonly used mood stabilizers.
Anticonvulsant medications, such as lamotrigine, are also used as mood stabilizers. If the patient has psychotic episodes or symptoms, an antipsychotic like quetiapine will also be prescribed.
Antidepressants can be used in patients with bipolar disorder. However, they can trigger manic episodes due to the increase in serotonin, so they aren’t used often.
22. It’s Not As Rare As People Think
Bipolar disorder is actually more common than you’d think. An estimated 2.8% of US adults have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Forty-six million people across the world have bipolar disorder.
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23. People With Bipolar Disorder Can Live Healthy and Fulfilling Lives
Living with bipolar disorder can be complicated and has its challenges. However, with proper treatment, therapy, and routine, anyone with this disorder can live a fulfilling life. Stability and true happiness can be achieved even with bipolar disorder.
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