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Matthew Prior

Bipolar Disorder

The distinguishing characteristic of Bipolar Disorder, as compared to other mood disorders, is the presence of at least one manic episode. Additionally, it is presumed to be a chronic condition because the vast majority of individuals who have one manic episode have additional episodes in the future. Every individual with bipolar disorder has a unique pattern of mood cycles, combining depression and manic episodes, that is specific to that individual, but predictable once the pattern is identified. Research studies suggest a strong genetic influence in bipolar disorder.

It may be helpful to think of the various mood states in manic-depressive illness as a spectrum. At one end is severe depression, which shades into moderate depression; then come mild and brief mood disturbances that many people call "the blues," then normal mood, then hypomania (a mild form of mania), and then mania. The individual with the bipolar disorder can fall anywhere in this spectrum and their mood swings maybe mild or very severe. Some people with untreated bipolar disorder have repeated depressions and only an occasional episode of hypomania. In the other extreme, mania may be the main problem and depression may occur only infrequently.

Most individuals with bipolar disorder do not perceive their manic episodes as needing treatment, and they resist entering treatment. In fact, most people report feeling very good during the beginning of a manic episode, and don't want it to stop. However, as the manic episode progresses, concentration becomes difficult, thinking becomes more grandiose, and problems develop.

What is a manic episode?

A manic episode is an abnormally elevated, expansive or irritable mood, not related to substance abuse or a medical condition, that lasts for at least a week, and includes a number of disturbances in behavior and thinking that results in significant life adjustment problems.

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