Bipolar depression, or manic depressive illness, is a disorder of the brain, characterized by unusual shifting of a person’s mood, energy, and ability to function. One minute, the person may experience mania, the next he may suffer from symptoms of severe depression.
Everyone goes through the normal ups and downs in life. Bipolar depression is different in that the extent and rapidity of the shift from manic to depressive are beyond what a normal person would experience. Often, the symptoms of bipolar depression are so severe that they can result in damaged relationships, poor job or school performance, and even suicide.
According to a recent survey report, about 5.7 million American adults age 18 and older have bipolar depression. That is about 2.6 percent of the entire population. The good news is that bipolar depression can be treated and those suffering from this illness can lead full and productive lives.
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The most important thing to remember about bipolar depression is that there are two moods involved, each of which are accompanied by distinct sets of symptoms and signs.
During a manic episode, the symptoms can include:
- Increased energy, activity and restlessness
- Excessive feelings of being “high”, overly good, or euphoric
- Extreme irritability
- Racing thoughts and talking very fast; often rapidly jumps from one idea to another
- Easily gets distracted; cannot concentrate at all
- Needs little sleep
- Unrealistic beliefs in one’s abilities and powers
- Poor judgment
- Spending sprees
- Increased sexual drive
- Abuse of drugs, particularly cocaine, alcohol and sleeping medications
- Provocative, intrusive, or aggressive behavior
- Denial that anything is wrong
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When a person is in an elevated mood accompanied by three or more of the above symptoms, nearly every day for one week or longer, the diagnosis is likely a manic episode. If the prevalent mood is irritability, it must be accompanied by four other symptoms in order to warrant a diagnosis of manic episode.
During a depressive episode, a person with bipolar depression may suffer any of the following:
- Pervasive feelings of sadness, anxiety, or emptiness
- Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism, guilt, worthlessness or helplessness
- Marked decrease of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed, including sex
- Decreased energy, feelings of fatigue or of being “slowed down”
- Restlessness or irritability
- Sleeping too much or sleeping too little
- Unexplained weight loss or gain
- Chronic pain or other persistent bodily symptoms with no known cause
- Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
To diagnose a depressive episode, the person must exhibit five or more of these symptoms as well, and they should last most of the day, nearly every day, for a period of two weeks or longer.