Bipolar disorder is a vastly misunderstood condition that is very real and has detrimental effects on the lives of those affected. Through my experience, I’d say that the majority of our culture doesn’t fully understand what bipolar means; it gets thrown around in everyday situations to describe someone who might be particularly moody but is otherwise healthy. In reality, bipolar disorder can be debilitating and is more than just someone who has mood swings now and then. Bipolar disorder is characterized by full-blown episodes of depression and mania, hence why bipolar is also known as manic-depressive disorder. The depressive episodes can be of equal severity as someone who has major depressive disorder. The manic or “happy” episodes are more than just being in a good mood, mania includes symptoms such as aggressive or irritable behavior, rapid speech, inability to focus, impaired judgment, and even psychosis, all of which can have negative and sometimes dangerous effects on one’s life. In most cases these episodes cycle only a few times per year, so often patients are in these phases for weeks to months at a time. Others may cycle multiple times a day, known as rapid cycling bipolar. There are 3 classes of bipolar disorder based on severity: Bipolar I is the most debilitating, the mania is dangerous and destructive and the intense high to low cycles cause the most strain on relationships and jobs. Bipolar II is less severe and the depressive episodes last longer than the hypomanic (not full blown mania as in Bipolar I). Most Bipolar II patients can live a relatively normal life with treatment. The least severe form is known as Cyclothymic disorder, where like Bipolar II, the depressive episodes last the longest but the highs and lows are not as severe.
Bipolar is not accepted as an actual disorder by many people, which can make relationships with the families and friends of those effected difficult and can discourage them from seeking medical help. Like most mental illnesses, bipolar disorder is stigmatized in our culture, so many people who may be suspected of having it may also try to deny it and refuse to seek treatment. While bipolar is a recognized disorder in the DSM and by most medical doctors, some of the milder cases may be dismissed as moodiness or, for women, PMS. Bipolar is subjective, where if someone feels these extreme changes in mood and finds them troubling, only they can convey to the doctors their feelings and symptoms. In more severe cases, like Bipolar I, diagnosis is simpler because the patient may be out of control and outwardly exhibiting symptoms that follow the DSM description. However in milder cases, where someone is in more control such as Bipolar II or Cyclothymic, they may be trying to suppress or not know how to express some of their symptoms that they are otherwise feeling regularly.
I think there is a connection between belief and healing. Often I’ve heard about patients’ will to live, and they come out of terminal or disabling illnesses and live healthily for many more years. In contrast I’ve also heard cases of the loss of the will to live, and otherwise relatively healthy people die from a very curable disease or injury. Somehow it appears that if you believe you will get better (or worse) in your mind, it can stimulate the body into better, more effective (or less effective) healing. From placebo pills curing mental illness to hypnotism curing incurable skin disease, the power of belief has many profound possibilities in the future of medicine. Instances like this prove that the mind truly is a powerful thing, and leaves a sense of wonder what else it can accomplish that we don’t yet know or understand. It would be fascinating to know how the conscious mind can have such great, and sometimes unbelievable effects on the human body. What brain centers can completely change the biological status of a person based solely on the mind? Is there a way we could someday learn to control it? Only time will tell what the human mind is fully capable of but for now, we can marvel at the miracles that seem to occur with powerful faith and belief in the cure.
Mayo Clinic. “Diseases and Conditions: Bipolar Disorder.” Accessed 7/24/2014.http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bipolar-disorder/basics/symptoms/con-20027544