Bipolar disorder, formerly called manic depression, is a mental illness that causes people to have episodes of severe high and low moods. People who have this illness switch from feeling overly happy and energized to feeling very sad and vice versa. Because of the highs and the lows -- or two poles of mood -- the condition is referred to as "bipolar" disorder. In between episodes of mood swings, a person may experience normal moods.
The word "manic" describes the periods when the person feels overly excited and confident. These feelings can quickly turn to confusion, irritability, anger, and even rage. The word "depressive" describes the periods when the person feels very sad or depressed. Because the symptoms are similar, sometimes people with bipolar disorder are incorrectly diagnosed as having major depression.
Most individuals with bipolar disorder spend more time in depressed phases than in manic phases.
What Are the Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?
In bipolar disorder, the dramatic episodes of high and low moods do not follow a set pattern, and depression does not necessarily always follow manic phases. A person may also experience the same mood state several times before suddenly experiencing the opposite mood. These episodes can happen over a period of weeks, months, and sometimes even years.
The severity of the depressive and manic phases can differ from person to person and in the same person at different times.
Symptoms of mania ("the highs"):
Some people with bipolar disorder can become psychotic, seeing and hearing things that aren't there and holding false beliefs from which they cannot be swayed. In some instances they see themselves as having superhuman skills and powers, or think they are God-like.
During depressive periods ("the lows"), a person with bipolar disorder may experience: