Bipolar Disorder is a disease that affects one in every five Americans. It is second only to heart disease for loss of workdays.
According to popular belief, the cause of Bipolar disorder is a chemical imbalance in the brain. This imbalance is due to one neurotransmitter called norepinephrine, which is thought to be the cause of depressive symptoms. Norepinephrine is a hormone produced by the adrenal medulla, similar in chemical and pharmacological properties to epinephrine (also a hormone secreted by the adrenal medulla in response to stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system).
Norepinephrine and epinephrine are the two active hormones that cause some of the physiological expressions of fear and anxiety. It appears that in states of mania, one’s norepinephrine levels are extremely high, and in a depressive state, the level is very low. However, despite intense research and investigation, the cause of bipolar disorder is still unknown. Other suggestions for the basis of this disease consist of viral infections and tragic or stressful events in one’s life. Symptoms of depression can be anything from loss of appetite to excessive crying.
Typical symptoms include:
- Depressive blue” mood, which can include feelings of sadness and irritability
- Feelings of worthlessness and guilt, including self-hatred for problems in everyday life, unrealistic self-blame, negative self-evaluations, and very low self-esteem
- Excessive fatigue and/or insomnia, including difficulties falling asleep, waking up restless, or waking up earlier than usual. Hypersomnia is feeling sleepy and napping all the time.
Commonly, manic-depressives can function very well on little or no sleep. Frequent thoughts of death or suicide are very common in depression. Loss of appetite, or a gain in appetite or weight (or loss), is common. Also, the types of foods being consumed are no longer important; taste doesn’t matter.
Loss of interest in once pleasurable activities. This could take the form of not caring anymore and commonly includes a loss of interest in all hobbies. One might also try to pick up lots of hobbies to occupy themselves with things other than their own self-hatred.
Indecisiveness or diminished ability to concentrate is characterized by memory difficulties, being easily distracted, and not being able to make everyday decisions (like what kind of socks to put on).
Mood swings can last for several weeks in one state and are generally referred to as episodes. The length of episodes varies per person, but an individual episode could last for several weeks.
Rapid cycling refers to several episodes (four or more) that occur in one year. These episodes usually only last for a few days and sometimes only a few hours. Such creative geniuses as Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Vincent Van Gogh, and William Faulkner are all documented depressives. Some believe that there is a chemical link between creativity and/or genius and depression. Characteristics of manic-depressive illness and creative accomplishment are very closely similar. The ability to function well on a few hours of sleep, the focus needed to work intensely, bold and restless attitudes, and an ability to experience a wide variety of emotions with great depth are all part of creative genius and depression alike.
There is a range of successful treatments for manic depression. In the past, electric shock therapy was used. Now, the most common treatment is an antidepressant called Prozac, which boosts the level of a neurotransmitter called serotonin, and mental therapy. Depression is a disease like any other and is not something to be ashamed of. It is curable and is not something someone should have to go through alone. 82% of all depressed patients go untreated.
Manic depression is also the number one leading cause of suicide in the U.S. today.