Bipolar Disorder (Manic Depressive Illness or Manic Depression)

What Is It?

Bipolar disorder, which used to be called manic depressive illness or manic depression, is a mental disorder characterized by wide mood swings from high (manic) to low (depressed).

Periods of high or irritable mood are called manic episodes. The person becomes very active, but in a scattered and unproductive way, sometimes with painful or embarrassing consequences. Examples are spending more money than is wise or getting involved in sexual adventures that are regretted later. A person in a manic state is full of energy or very irritable, may sleep far less than normal, and may dream up grand plans that could never be carried out. The person may develop thinking that is out of step with reality -- psychotic symptoms -- such as false beliefs (delusions) or false perceptions (hallucinations). During manic periods, a person may run into trouble with the law. If a person has milder symptoms of mania and does not have psychotic symptoms, it is called "hypomania" or a hypomanic episode.

The expert view of bipolar disorder will continue to evolve, but it is now commonly divided into two subtypes (bipolar I and bipolar II) based on the dividing line between mania and hypomania described above.

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