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Mental health authorities estimate that more than 2 million adults have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder (also called manic-depression), a chemical imbalance in the brain causing extreme mood swings from manic highs to agonizing lows. Although a diagnosis of bipolar disorder can be frightening and confusing, it is a treatable and manageable condition.

If you or someone close to you has been diagnosed with bipolar illness, the first step in relieving fear and uncertainty is education. The more you know about the disorder, the less control it will exert over you and others who may be affected.

The National Institute of Mental Health (www.nimh.nih.gov), The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (www.nami.org), and The National Mental Health Association (www.nmha.org) are just a few of the recognized national organizations providing information, facts and support to anyone who may be directly or indirectly affected by bipolar disorder.

Below are some essential facts about bipolar disorder provided by these organizations that may alleviate some of your concerns and questions surrounding a recent diagnosis.

Bipolar disorder affects many people: According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), bipolar disorder affects approximately 2.3 million adults, or 1.2 percent of the population, in any given year.

Bipolar disorder has many potential causes: There does not appear to be one cause for bipolar disorder. Evidence suggests that many components may come into play, all of which affect the chemical balance of certain parts of the brain. Several studies on the occurrence of bipolar disorder in families demonstrate a genetic disposition toward the illness. Other factors may include extremely traumatic life events, chronic illness, alcoholism, and drug abuse.

Bipolar disorder has varied symptoms: The most pronounced symptoms of bipolar disorder are dramatic mood swings consisting of extremely "high" manic episodes to debilitating episodes of depression and then back again with relatively normal moods in between. Behaviors during a manic episode include heightened feelings of euphoria, extreme energy, decreased need for sleep, extreme irritability and distractibility, and increased aggression. Depressive episodes bring about excessive feelings of despair, hopelessness, worthlessness, guilt, and sometimes thoughts of suicide.

Bipolar disorder affects both sexes in children to adults: Manic depression is not selective in who it touches. Women and men are equally affected, as are children and adolescents (although a diagnosis in children and teens is more difficult to determine). A majority of those diagnosed with bipolar disorder have a least one family member with the illness. And children of parents with the illness are more likely to develop it themselves.

Bipolar disorder has effective treatment modalities: Bipolar disorder is treated with medications, called mood stabilizers, to assist in controlling fluctuation in moods. The important thing to understand about bipolar disorder is that it is a life-long, recurring illness requiring ongoing care. In addition to medication, psychotherapy is also prescribed in the management of the illness. Psychotherapy assists people to understand their illness and to develop coping skills to help deal with life events and stressors that may trigger manic and depressive episodes.

Bipolar disorder has no cure: As of today, there is no known cure for bipolar disorder; however, it is a treatable and manageable illness. With a close relationship with a mental health professional, a proper diagnosis, and vigilant adherence to taking medications and sticking to prescribed treatment plans, most individuals with bipolar illness lead very productive and rewarding lives.

These are just a few of the facts pertaining to bipolar disorder. It is not a simple illness, yet it is manageable and treatable. If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, do not hesitate to seek information and help. Any one of the above-mentioned organizations can offer you education, guidance, and support. Obtaining knowledge is one of your first steps in alleviating the uncertainty and anxiety of dealing with such a diagnosis.


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