Bipolar disorder is a type of mental illness that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, sleep and behavior. Signs and symptoms typically include alternating periods of manic episodes (joyful or excited states) and depressive episodes (very sad, hopeless or empty states). Mood episodes may also include symptoms of both mania and depression (a mixed state). Bipolar disorder often develops in the late teens or early adult years, but age of onset can range from childhood to late in life. Bipolar disorder can run in families, although no single gene is thought to cause the condition. Many factors acting together may increase a person's risk to develop the disorder. Treatment may include medication and psychotherapy for preventing relapses and reducing the severity of symptoms.
Bipolar disorder differs significantly from clinical depression, although the symptoms for the depressive phase of the illness are similar (please also see: depression). The mood swings from high to low can be severe, ranging from extreme energy to deep despair. The severity of the mood swings and the way they disrupt normal life activities distinguish bipolar mood episodes from ordinary mood changes. It is important to tell your doctor if you experience both highs and lows because the treatment for bipolar disorder is different than for depression. Talk with your doctor to decide on the best treatment plan. Support groups are also a good source of up to date information and can help connect you with others affected by depression.