Until recent years, many people had not heard the term bipolar disorder. This is because “manic depression” was a more commonly used medical term for people suffering from extreme mood swings. Someone with bipolar disorder has a chemical imbalance in the brain that causes him to swing from deep depression to extreme elation or mania. Some people with bipolar disorder also experience delusions, hallucinations, and aggressive behavior.
There are many different types of bipolar disorder, but all have the same concept of swings between depression and elation. Some people have weeks of depression followed by weeks of mania, while others may cycle through moods in a matter of days or even hours. Others suffer mixed episodes in which they simultaneously experience depression and mania. Mixed episodes are the hardest to treat with medication.
In virtually all cases of bipolar disorder, medication is an absolute necessity. The risk of suicide or reckless behavior such as unprotected sex is rather high among people with untreated bipolar disorder. The usual treatment regimen includes a mood stabilizer such as lithium or Tegretol and an anti-psychotic agent like Seroquel or Risperdal. Some bipolar patients also take antidepressants such as Prozac or Wellbutrin, but cannot safely do so without using a mood stabilizer. Other medications commonly used to treat bipolar disorder include sedatives such as Klonopin or Ativan.
Therapy is also helpful for people with any mental illness, including bipolar disorder. However, therapy alone is rarely sufficient to bring about lasting change. The same principle is true for medication. Both chemical and behavioral changes are usually necessary for consistent recovery from mental illnesses.