What is bipolar affective disorder?
Bipolar (or bipolar affective) disorder is a psychiatric disorder characterized by significant mood instability, which manifests itself through periods of excessively elevated mood, called mania, alternating with periods of depression. The severity of the disorder depends on the duration, intensity of symptoms and frequency of mood alteration periods.
Bipolar disorder can be accompanied by other similar mental health problems, which may include drug abuse, obsessive compulsive disorder or social anxiety disorder. It may be challenging to diagnose bipolar and associated mental health disorders because the symptoms may overlap or can be mild to moderate and difficult to identify, especially in early stages of the disorder.
However, even though difficult, an early diagnosis is associated with the best outcome and allows for a more efficient management of symptoms or even a remission (disappearance) of bipolar symptoms. Individuals who exhibit considerable mood instability or spontaneous psychotic behaviour should be evaluated by a mental health professional as soon as possible to rule out bipolar disorder or start treatment before the symptoms become more pronounced.
Symptoms of Bipolar disorder
During the manic phase, the affected individual can feel euphoric and excessively enthusiastic for no specific reason, which may affect adequate judgment, lead to irrational decisions and even psychotic behavior.
During the depressive phase, the individual experiences typical depression symptoms, which may consists of feelings of persistent sadness, low self esteem, a lack of enthusiasm for enjoyable activities and poor mental focus. Both phases can consist of bothersome, severe symptoms, including profound depression and suicidal ideation, or irrational, dangerous behavior and psychosis, depending on the bipolar phase.
Who gets it?
Bipolar affective disorder has similar frequencies among men and women, and the prevalence in different countries or geographical regions is also almost the same. Researchers also did not found significant differences in terms of bipolar frequencies among different races, but a poor financial status or education have been associated with more severe symptoms, probably due to the additional stress or lack of emotional support.
The statistical data on bipolar frequency is slightly variable depending on the quoted study, but is generally between 1 and 3 percent of the general population, with insignificant differences between geographical regions. The onset of symptoms typically occurs in early adulthood, with most individuals exhibiting the first symptoms in their early or mid twenties (between 18 and 25 years old).