Mental Illness: Facts about Bipolar Illness (Manic Depression)

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

Facts about Bipolar Illness (Manic Depression)

Source: National Institute of Mental Health

Related Links:

Bipolar (Manic-Depressive) Illness

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual 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. They can result in damaged relationships, poor job or school performance, and even suicide. But this disorder can be treated, and people with this illness can lead full and productive lives.

  • About 5.7 million American adults, or about 2.6 percent of adults in any given year have bipolar disorder.
  • As many as 20% of people with bipolar illness die by suicide.
  • Men and women are equally likely to develop bipolar illness.
  • Like diabetes or heart disease, bipolar disorder is a long-term illness that must be carefully managed throughout a person's life.


Bipolar disorder causes dramatic mood swings, often with periods of normal mood in between. Severe changes in energy and behavior go along with these changes in mood. Some symptoms include:

  • increased energy, activity, and restlessness
  • extreme irritability
  • racing thoughts and talking very fast, jumping from one idea to another
  • distractibility
  • little sleep needed
  • unreaslitic beliefs in one's abilities and powers
  • poor judgment
  • spending sprees
  • a lasting period of behavior that is different from usual
  • increased sexual drive
  • provacative, intrusive, or aggressive behavior
  • abuse of drugs, particularly cocaine, alcohol, and sleeping medications
  • denial that anything is wrong

A manic episode is dianosed if elevated mood occurs with three or more of the other symptoms most of the day, nearly every day, for 1 week or longer. If the mood is irritable, four additional symptoms must be present.


Most people with bipolar disorder can achieve substantial stabilization of their mood swings and related symptoms with proper treatment. Because bipolar disorder is a recurrent illness, long-term preventive treatment is strongly recommended and almost always indicated. A strategy that combines medication and psychosocial treatment is optimal for managing the disorder over time.

Mental illness at a glance:

Introduction | Depression | Bipolar Illness | Suicide | Schizophrenia | Anxiety Disorders | Panic Disorder | Obsessive–Compulsive Disorder | Post–Traumatic Stress Disorder | Social Phobia | Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Sources +