July 13, 2024

All About Bipolar Depression

Bipolar disorder – or manic depression, as it was once called – is a mood disorder that is characterized by extreme mood swings in which the patient may experience ecstasy one moment and despair the next.  While those who suffer from this mental illness can experience periods of normalcy, those in the midst of a mood swing may experience an increased desire to take risks, an inability to preserve family and friend relationships, and even suicidal tendencies.

Some refer to bipolar disorder as manic depression because its victims experience periods of mania (extreme optimism) and depression (extreme sadness).  Those going through a manic mood swing may experience euphoria, increased focus and productivity, and a desire to engage in reckless and impulsive behavior.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, those going through a depressive mood swing may feel useless, ashamed, and despondent.  People who suffer from intense bipolar disorder have these at greater extremes and in greater frequency than those who suffer from a less intense form of bipolar disorder.

There are several types of bipolar disorder that refer to the intensity and frequency with which people suffer episodes.

Bipolar I disorder is the most severe form of manic depression and refers to individuals who have had at least one major manic episode as well as periods of clinical depression.  This is the type of bipolar disorder that most often leads to suicide, so those diagnosed with this type of bipolar disorder must always be on guard against suicidal thoughts and tendencies.

Bipolar II disorder shares many of the symptoms of bipolar I disorder but with less severity and frequency.  Rather than experiencing full mania, people suffering from bipolar I disorder go through periods of increased levels of impulsiveness and energy called hypomania as well as periods of lesser depression.

Cyclothymia is a mild form of bipolar disorder in which patients suffer through milder forms of hypomania and depression than those experienced by bipolar I and II patients.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder can be difficult to differentiate from clinical depression at first because patients must first experience both manic and depressive episodes before doctors will be able to diagnose bipolar disorder.  Milder forms of the following symptoms also occur in bipolar II and cyclothymia patients.

Symptoms of a Manic Episode

  • Increases in energy level, happiness, and productivity can be symptoms of a bipolar manic episode.
  • Decreases in self-control, the ability to exercise good judgment, and the need for sleep are also indications of mania.
  • A heightened sex drive and impulsive spending are also signs of a manic episode.
  • Grandiose and inflated self-perspective as well as faster and louder speech can indicate bipolar mania.
  • Rapidly changing from happiness to irritability can signal a manic episode or an impending mood swing.

Symptoms of a Bipolar Depression Episode


  • Negative feelings of sadness, anxiety, and irritability are symptoms of a bipolar depressive episode.
  • Losses of energy, appetite, and interest in once pleasurable activities may be indicators of a depressive episode.
  • Suicidal thoughts and attempts and well as contemplations about death and dying are symptoms of a bipolar depressive episode.
  • Low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness or uselessness are depressive episode red flags.
  • Uncontrollable crying and feelings of guilty may also indicate a depressive episode.

Causes of Bipolar Depression


  • A chemical imbalance in the brain that leads to abnormal serotonin levels could cause bipolar disorder.
  • Having a family member who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder increases a person’s odds of contracting bipolar disorder at some point.
  • Children growing up in the stress of bipolar families may develop bipolar disorder as well due to both nature and nurture.
  • Lack of sleep can worsen existing bipolar conditions and can trigger manic depressive episodes.
  • Children born to fathers in their mid-fifties and older have a higher chance of being diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
  • Life changes such as childbirth, marriage, and divorce can trigger bipolar disorder episodes.
  • Taking medications – especially antidepressants and steroids – can exacerbate bipolar disorder symptoms.
  • Recreational drug or alcohol use can also trigger episodes in bipolar disorder sufferers.

Treatment for Bipolar Depression

Prescription Drugs

Various drugs make effective treatments for bipolar depression, including mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, and antidepressants.

Lithium carbonate is the most popular mood stabilizer as it not only helps reduce current bipolar symptoms but also helps prevent future manic-depressive episodes.  Antipsychotic drugs such as olanzapine, aripiprazole, and risperidone are used to control the psychotic symptoms of bipolar disorder, and antidepressants such as Paxil, Zoloft, and Prozac help control the depressive symptoms.  Doctors often recommend that bipolar patients take all three types of drugs in tandem since bipolar disorder has such a wide spectrum of symptoms.

Electric Shock Therapy

Doctors also treat bipolar disorder with various types of electric and visual therapies.  While the idea of electric therapy conjures terrifying images from the movie “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” qualified doctors and technicians can carry out treatment with little risk to the patient.

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is the primary shock treatment for more serious instances of bipolar disorder and is conducted by passing an electric current through the brain to induce a two second grand mal seizure.

Vagal Nerve Stimulation (VNS) is a newer procedure that involves stimulating the vagal nerves in an attempt to lessen depression symptoms; Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) uses an electromagnetic coil to stimulate nerve cells in the mood centers of the brain in order to treat depression.

Light Therapy

Light therapy is especially effective for treating seasonal sufferers of bipolar depression as it exposes patients’ eyes to a full spectrum of light for about half an hour a day.


Psychotherapy can also help treat bipolar disorder.  Talking to a counselor or therapist can help bipolar depression sufferers reach a place of acceptance about their mental illness and can help curb some of the negative tendencies of the malady such as the tendency to skip medication.

Patients might also find joining bipolar disorder support groups to be helpful since sharing experiences with other individuals who truly understand the problems involved with bipolar disorder may help them work through some of their personal problems in a way that they can’t with their family and friends.

Lifestyle Changes

Exercising, sleeping well, and eating healthy foods can also lessen the effects of bipolar disorder.


Bipolar depression should be taken seriously and treatment is advised.  Experts estimate that approximately 4% of the general population will experience some form of bipolar disorder at some point in life and that the average suicide rate of people diagnosed with bipolar disorder is 10 to 20 times greater than that of the general population.

If you or a loved one is suffering from bipolar disorder seek medical help immediately.  Without treatment bipolar depression can grow worse and more severe.  Treatment is usually required and can help.


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