Formerly known as “manic depressive illness,” bipolar disorder is a term that, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), comprises a cluster of related disorders that are characterized by distinctive and extreme shifts, or cycles, in mood. These moods oscillate between varying degrees of two poles: mania and depression.
Mania is marked by elevated, expansive, or irritable moods and increased energy; feeling overly happy and optimistic; being highly talkative but with pressured speech; or having inflated self-esteem and/or feeling grandiose or religious, as if on a mission directly from God.
There’s often little need for sleep, but the mind is always racing with ideas and distracted, which can lead to high-risk, dangerous, or painful activities.
Mania can be life-threatening and destructive, causing marked social or occupational impairment or hospitalization to prevent harm to self or others. It is driven largely by the over-production of chemicals that create and regulate mood.
Depression often results in decreased energy, diminished interest, worthlessness, hopelessness, lack of focus, and recurrent thoughts of death. The person feels sad and empty and often has a significant change in weight or appetite.
Source: Gregg Martin, Kristi Choate, and Julie Coffey with assistance from “Proceedings” staff
Medical depression is a life-threatening condition that inspires recurrent thoughts of suicide. As the opposite of mania, it is largely driven by the under-production of those same critical chemicals that create and regulate mood.
Bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses are real physical illnesses that occur within the brain. They are not the “fault” of the afflicted person or evidence of moral failings, flawed character, or a cut and dry lack of willpower. So we must treat them as we would a person with cancer or diabetes—recognize it, get medical help, diagnose it, treat it, heal it, and get them back to a healthy life.