Throughout a given time period, those with bipolar disorder experience very different symptoms, depending on whether they are currently in a manic phase or on the other side of the pendulum in a depressive phase. Symptoms and moods also differ a lot from person to person. For most people, either very high or very low moods are experienced for several days at a time. Others might stay in a manic or depressive phase for several months.
Most people with bipolar disorder have stable, normal moods with few symptoms for stretches of time, but on the other hand some hardly ever feel “normal” and jump from one end of the spectrum to the other over and over again.
Common manic symptoms include:
- very happy moods and excitement
- hallucinations/psychosis or delusions (seeing and hearing things that don’t actually exist, sometimes thought of as “increased creativity”)
- at times paranoia and extreme anxiety
- irritability, aggression and sometimes rage
- insomnia and trouble sleeping normally
- strong motivation and ideas related to new plans
- loss of appetite and sometimes weight loss
- fast talking and fidgeting
- spending more money than usual on affordable things or spending lots of energy/time on unnecessary projects
Common depression signs and symptoms include:
- very low moods, including feeling worthless, insignificant and hopeless
- for some suicidal thoughts can occur
- fatigue or lethargy (even though many people tend to sleep for long duration during this phase)
- low motivation
- brain fog and trouble concentrating, working, making decisions and remembering things
- loss of interest or enjoyment in activities and hobbies
- higher likelihood for abusing alcohol and drugs
Many times someone with manic depression will seek medical help and receive a diagnosis when that person has been in a depression phase for some time. This might be when family, co-workers and friends are more likely to notice a change in personality and suggest seeking treatment.
On the other hand, many people with bipolar disorder never choose to get help and therefore continue to suffer unnecessarily. Seeking help from a therapist can be on the most important thing someone with manic depression does, since research shows that up to 20 percent of people who leave depression or other mood disorders untreated wind up taking their own lives.
Causes of Bipolar Disorder/Manic Depression
- Like depression, anxiety and other mental disorders, there’s a genetic component to bipolar disorder, and it tends to run in families. According to the National Institute of Mental health, people with certain genes are more likely to develop bipolar disorder than others, although genetics alone are not likely to cause the condition. Even identical twins who have bipolar disorder in their family don’t always have the same outcome despite having identical genes. Most children with a family history of bipolar disorder will not develop the illness, and it seems that other factors need to trigger its development, including life events, upbringing and lifestyle habits that affect the brain.
Chemical imbalances and brain functioning:
- The brain’s physical structure and chemical activities affect someone’s moods and are related to the onset of mental disorders, including manic depression. Some research has shown that brains of people with bipolar disorder are different from those of healthy people, sometimes showing “multi-dimensional impairments” that are similar to those seen in people with schizophrenia (another disorder that features mood swings). It’s possible that ongoing inflammation also worsens these structural and chemical changes.
- Research using MRI brain scans has found that the part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex (associated with “executive” functions, such as solving problems and making decisions) in people with bipolar disorder tends to be smaller and less active compared to adults who don’t have bipolar disorder.
- Psychiatric experts still have a lot to learn about how different upbringings and environments change brain structures, but it seems that someone’s recurring negative/fearful thoughts and behaviors can actually physically change the brain’s chemical channels through “neuroplasticity.” This increases the odds of experiencing harmful moods more often in the future and developing mood-related disorders.
Final Thoughts on Manic Depression
- Experts believe at least 5 million to 6 million people suffer from this condition in the U.S. alone.\
- Manic depression/bipolar disorder usually appears in the late teens and early adult years (especially between ages 15 and 24). It’s much rarer among children and those over 65 years old.
- Up to 90 percent of people with manic depression have to be hospitalized at some point, especially those not managing their symptoms well; 75 percent need to be hospitalized at least two to three times.
- Even when medication is used, these treatment options below can help stabilize the condition and improve recovery: education and medical care, exercise ideally outside, eating a healthy diet, yoga and meditation, certain herbs and supplements, and reducing stress.
- Common manic symptoms include very happy moods and excitement; hallucinations/psychosis or delusions; at times paranoia and extreme anxiety; irritability, aggression and sometimes rage; insomnia and trouble sleeping normally; strong motivation and ideas related to new plans; loss of appetite and sometimes weight loss; fast talking and fidgeting; spending more money than usual on affordable things or spending lots of energy/time on unnecessary projects. Common depression signs and symptoms include very low moods, including feeling worthless, insignificant and hopeless; suicidal thoughts; fatigue or lethargy; low motivation; brain fog and trouble concentrating, working, making decisions and remembering things; loss of interest or enjoyment in activities and hobbies; higher likelihood for abusing alcohol and drugs.
- The three main causes of manic depression seem to be genetics, chemical imbalances and brain functioning, and lifestyle/upbringing.