Bipolar Disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a serious medical
illness that causes shifts in a person's mood, energy, and ability to function. Different from the
normal ups and downs that everyone goes through, the symptoms of bipolar disorder are
severe. (Manic Depression)
Individuals who experience manic episodes also commonly experience depressive episodes or
symptoms, or mixed episodes in which features of both mania and depression are present at the same
These episodes are usually separated by periods of "normal" mood, but in some individuals,
depression and mania may rapidly alternate, known as rapid cycling.
Extreme manic episodes can sometimes lead to psychotic symptoms such as delusions and
hallucinations. The disorder has been subdivided into bipolar I, bipolar II, cyclothymia, and other
types, based on the nature and severity of mood episodes experienced; the range is often described
as the bipolar spectrum.
Data from the United States on lifetime prevalence vary but indicate a rate of around 1 percent
for Bipolar I, 0.5 to 1 percent for Bipolar II or cyclothymia, and between 2 and 5 percent for
subthreshold cases meeting some but not all criteria.
The onset of full symptoms generally occurs in late adolescence or young adulthood. Diagnosis is
based on the person's self-reported experiences, as well as observed behavior. Episodes of
abnormality are associated with distress and disruption, and an elevated risk of suicide,
especially during depressive episodes. In some cases it can be a devastating long-lasting disorder.
In some cases, however, it has been associated with creativity, goal striving and positive
Genetic factors contribute substantially to the likelihood of developing bipolar disorder, and
environmental factors are also implicated. Bipolar disorder is often treated with mood stabilizer
medications, and sometimes other psychiatric drugs. Psychotherapy also has a role, often when there
has been some recovery of stability.
In serious cases in which there is a risk of harm to oneself or others involuntary commitment
may be used; these cases generally involve severe manic episodes with dangerous behavior or
depressive episodes with suicidal ideation. There are widespread problems with social stigma,
stereotypes and prejudice against individuals with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
Also called manic depression or bipolar affective disorder, the current term "bipolar" is of
fairly recent origin and refers to the cycling between high and low episodes (poles). A
relationship between mania and melancholia had long been observed, although the basis of the
current conceptualisation can be traced back to French psychiatrists in the 1850s. The term
"manic-depressive illness" or psychosis was coined by German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin in the
late nineteenth century, originally referring to all kinds of mood disorder. German psychiatrist
Karl Leonhard split the classification again in 1957, employing the terms unipolar disorder (Major
depressive disorder) and bipolar disorder.