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Bipolar Disorder is the medical name for the mood disorder more commonly referred to as Manic Depression. It is a complicated, chronic illness requiring counseling and treatment by professionals. People who suffer from this disorder experience cycles of manic episodes and depressive episodes several times a year.

A manic episode is characterized by an inflated self-esteem, hyperactivity, rapid thinking and speaking, inability to concentrate and an excessive involvement in pleasurable and sometimes dangerous activities. People with manic episodes often do not realize that they are ill and refuse to be treated. In some cases the sufferer could become psychotic or catatonic. As the manic episode develops there is a tendency towards alcohol use which makes the condition worse. Manic episodes usually start in the early twenties but there have been cases in teens and in senior citizens.

During a depressive episode the sufferer will experience a loss of interest in pleasurable activities and an overall depressed mood for at least two weeks. This mood may be recognised as irritability rather than sadness in children and adolescents. Sufferers often experience a decrease or increase in appetite resulting in weight loss or gain. Insomnia is frequently reported and fatigue is widely experienced. Everything requires a great effort to be done and guilt feelings are often present. In more severe cases, thoughts of death and suicide are present. Women report that a depressive episode becomes worse right before the onset of a menstrual period.

In some cases there will be a mixed episode where there is a rapid change between moods and in which both the symptoms for a manic episode and a depressive episode are present. These mixed episodes cause disoriented thinking and behavior and are more common in younger people.

Since the way in which the illness manifests itself varies from one person to another, a treatment plan has to be carefully chosen according to the individual's needs. Counselling may help some people but medication is often needed. Most patients respond well to lithium but it is not as effective in those who have frequent episodes. Medical advances are made all the time and other drugs such as carbamazepine and sodium valproate are available.

If you recognise some or all of the symptoms in you or in others try to get help. It is not a disorder which will go away by itself. If you don't know where to turn to, you can start by seeing your GP who can diagnose you and refer you to people specialised in treating this illness.