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Bipolar disorder is a mental health illness that is associated with episodes of extreme mood swings. These mood swings range from expansive highs (mania/hypomania) to extreme lows (depression). Bipolar disorder is also referred to as manic-depressive disorder.

When experiencing a manic episode, symptoms may include extreme energy, racing thoughts, need for very little sleep and inflated self-confidence. Poor decision making typically accompanies manic episodes, such as spending excessive monies or engaging in sexual risk taking. When the manic episode ends, a person may return to feeling “normal” or may then experience a depressive episode. A depressive episode is marked by feelings of sadness and hopelessness, a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, difficulty making decisions, and feelings of guilt and worthlessness. Thoughts of suicide frequently accompany bipolar related depressive episodes. Symptoms of mania and depression greatly interfere with day to day function, including work function and interpersonal relationships.

Bipolar disorder is typically diagnosed in late adolescence or early adulthood. The exact cause is not clear, but the condition does tend to run in families. The intensity and frequency of manic and depressive episodes is variable. Mood swings may come on slowly or suddenly, and may last from a few hours to a few months.

Although there is no cure for bipolar disorder, it can be well managed through a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Medication is important for mood stabilization. Unfortunately, it can be difficult for those suffering from bipolar disorder to stay on medication during episodes of mania, as they may view these episodes to be positive and productive. Learning the importance of regular medication maintenance is an important part of the therapeutic work. In addition, psychotherapy helps with education and the development of coping resources, as well as general support for the challenges one faces when managing this mental health condition.

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