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About Bipolar Disorder - What Is It?

Bipolar Illness Basics


Updated June 30, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Bipolar disorder is a condition that causes psychological and physical problems bad enough to affect everyday life - sometimes seriously. The most important thing about bipolar disorder is that a patient experiences extremes of mood, ranging from mania or hypomania - the upper end of mood swings - to depression, the lower end. For this reason, the old name of this illness is manic depression, and many people still refer to bipolar disorder that way.

Below you will find short descriptions of full articles that will lead you to the answers you want about bipolar disorder.

Start at the Beginning

What Is Bipolar Disorder?
Don't believe all the definitions you might find. One textbook says it's a disorder, where a person goes "between states of deep depression and extreme elation." That's an utterly inadequate way to describe bipolar illness, because it's much more complicated than that. Bipolar disorder affects thoughts, feelings, perceptions and behavior ... and even how a person feels and behaves physically.

What Causes Bipolar Disorder?
Why do people get bipolar disorder? For a large number of people, mental illnesses run in families, but experience and environment also play a part in who gets bipolar disorder.


Types of Bipolar Disorder

There are three primary types of bipolar illness. In bipolar I (also called bipolar 1), most individuals cycle between mania and depression. In bipolar II (also called bipolar 2), the cycles are between hypomania and depression. And a person with cyclothymia cycles between hypomania and depression that is less severe than in the other two forms. These three articles introduce you to these three primary forms of bipolar:

The Moods of Bipolar Disorder

Mania, hypomania and depression. The majority of people think they understand "depression," though they may not really know how devastating it can be unless they have some kind of experience with the severe depressions that might be a part of a bipolar disorder. The terms bipolar mania, hypomania and cyclothymia aren't as well-known. These articles will give you clear information about the bipolar moods:

Bipolar Information Step By Step

If all this is too much to take in at once, I can walk you through the basics of bipolar disorder with two sets of email newsletters. They'll arrive once a week, and by the time you've finished you'll know a great deal about the illness. Then you'll feel confident about exploring more of the extensive resources and information offered here at About.com Bipolar Disorder.

Bipolar Basics eCourse No. 1:

  • Week 1: What Is Bipolar Disorder, Important Terms, Thoughtless Things People Say
  • Week 2: Diagnosing Bipolar Disorder, Recognizing Episodes, Important Terms
  • Week 3: What Causes Bipolar Disorder, Important Terms, a Legal Victory
  • Week 4: Bipolar I, Bipolar II, Comparing the Two, Cyclothymia, Proposed Forms, Specifiers
Sign Up for Bipolar Basics I

Bipolar Basics eCourse No. 2:

  • Week 1: Bipolar Mania: Overview, Common Symptoms, Mania from the Inside
  • Week 2: Bipolar Depression (Part 1): Overview, Symptoms in Depth, Important Terms
  • Week 3: Bipolar Depression (Part 2): More Symptoms in Depth, a Personal Look at Depression
  • Week 4: Complex Features of Bipolar: Mixed Episodes, Rapid Cycling, Dysphoria, Preoccupation with Death, Living with Psychosis
  • Week 5: Psychosis: Hallucinations, Delusions, Paranoid Delusions, Personal Stories
Sign Up for Bipolar Basics II

About Bipolar Disorder

This site has been growing since April 1998. For the first 11 years there were two people contributing - myself (Marcia Purse) and Kimberly Read. Kim resigned for personal reasons, but you will still see articles with her byline. I continue to be your guide to bipolar disorder. My bio tells you who I am and why I write on this topic. You can also read about my first several years after my own bipolar diagnosis in What? ME? I'm Bipolar?

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