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Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a mental health condition that is characterized by extreme shifts in mood, energy, and activity levels. For the past 35-40 years of my life I’ve met and counseled several people who suffer with bipolar disorder.

People with bipolar disorder experience periods of intense highs, called mania or hypomania, and they also experience lows, called depression. If you have these symptoms you should consult a mental health professional immediately. It should be taken seriously.

During a manic episode, a person with bipolar disorder may feel elated, euphoric, frustrated or irritable. In a manic episode they may engage in risky behaviors such as substance abuse, spending sprees, or sexual promiscuity. They may also experience racing thoughts, decreased need for sleep, and increased goal-directed activity.

During a depressive episode, a person with bipolar disorder may feel sad, hopeless, lethargic, and may have difficulty with daily activities such as work, hobbies or school. They may also experience changes in appetite and sleep patterns. They may have feelings of guilt, worthlessness, regret or suicidal thoughts.

Bipolar disorder can be a lifelong condition and can have a significant impact on a person's relationships, work, and daily function. However, with proper treatment, including medication and therapy, many people with bipolar disorder can manage their symptoms and lead fulfilling lives.

Men and women are equally susceptible to bipolar disorders. The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) reports that bipolar disorder affects approximately 5.7 million adult Americans, or about 2.6% of the U.S. population age 18 and older every year. This is backed up by the National Institute of Mental Health. The median age of onset for bipolar disorder is 25 years (HIMH), but the illness can start in early childhood or as late as the 40’s and 50’s.

Diagnosis for bipolar disorder may include a physical exam, a psychiatric evaluation, and charting of your mood over a set period of time. The National Alliance of Mental Health (NAMH) reports that one in five adults in America experiences a mental illness in their lifetime. Right now, nearly 10 million Americans are living with a serious mental disorder.

If you know someone who suffers from bipolar disorder there are some practical ways to cope. While evidence and research cannot pinpoint exactly what causes bipolar disorder, it is evident that two primary factors appear to play a role: genetics and stress.

A person with bipolar disorder may have a parent or choose relative with the condition. However, having a parent (or even a twin) with bipolar disorder does not mean a person will have it. It may increase one’s odds but nothing is 100% conclusive.

Someone who has a genetic predisposition may experience their first episode (depression or manic situation) during or after a time of severe trauma or stress. This is another reason why seeing a doctor or mental health professional is a wise decision.

What can you do? Don’t make general assumptions about a persons mental health. Don’t assume that just because a family member has been diagnosed with bipolar that it is a permeability. And be patient and prayerful. Individuals with bipolar can live productive lives.

Talk to a mental health professional. There is hope. Take your mental health seriously.

You are loved.

Dr. Ray Reynolds

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