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Useful Notes: Bipolar Disorder
Most of the time, when a character portrayed as having bipolar disorder, they are usually shown as being uncontrollable, hair trigger Mood Swingers - swinging from affable and pleasant to suicidal or raging in the space of minutes. Or, in constrast, a character will be called bipolar if they are moody, but are never shown actually suffering from their mood swings. Either way, as the disorder is only rarely portrayed in the media beyond these and other unrealistic, simplified forms, most people are unaware that in reality, bipolar disorder is a complex, multifaceted illness.

In the most basic sense of the term, bipolar disorder is defined by the presence of mania. This means that someone who is depressed for the vast majority of the time but has had a single manic episode is as bipolar as the rapid cycler who goes through different moods in months, weeks, or even days. As you can see, this definition still leaves a lot of room for all the forms bipolar disorder can take.

Bipolar disorder is essentially a cycling disorder. Someone with it is assumed to always be in a state of flux, cycling from one mood state to another - technically meaning that someone can never recover from bipolar disorder, but only be 'in remission.' These cycles can speed up and slow down abruptly, ranging anywhere from one episode of mania/depression every few years to one every other minute (this is called Ultradian cycling, and is so rare it is suspected that it may be its own illness altogether.) Moreover, the extent and severity of the moods that a sufferer goes through can vary. The DSM lists three different varieties of bipolar disorder:

  • Bipolar I Disorder, which is defined by the presence of full-blown manic episodes - depression is not required for diagnosis, but almost always occurs;
  • Bipolar II Disorder, where milder hypomanic episodes occur instead, but often with longer and more severe depressions;
  • and Cyclothymia, which has hypomanic episodes and milder episodes of depression called dysthymia.

But what exactly do we mean by mania and depression? In the context of bipolar disorder, these are both abnormal and often disabling mood states, much more severe than anything a healthy person would go through for any prolonged period of time. They do not merely affect mood, but impact every part of how a sufferer thinks, perceives and interacts with the world.

  • Mania. Mania is described by the DSM as at least a week (or any amount of time that requires hospitalization) of "severely elevated mood." Which sounds pleasant, or even desirable. Up until you 'come back down'. Mania also has a dark side- people with mania have very short attention spans and often end up spending everything they have on a whim that they rapidly forget about. It can end very badly. This is one possible form of mania—mania can also be a state of energy without joy, which leaves them feeling like they're going too fast.
  • Mixed States. A mixed state is a bipolar episode in which a person is manic and depressed at the same time. It can range from being depressed but not lethargic to being happy and sad at the same time, which is hard to describe but certainly exists.

- Incomplete. Will add to the index once this is done. -
Asperger SyndromeUseful NotesDepression

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