Catherine Zeta-Jones recently put the spotlight on bipolar disorder after seeking treatment for this diagnosis. Bipolar disorder is often misunderstood by the general public.

What is bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder used to be called manic-depressive disorder because individuals with this condition experienced episodes of depression and episodes of mania. A depressive episode involves several symptoms of depression, such as depressed mood, withdrawal, loss of interest, impaired concentration, and other symptoms. While it is normal to feel sadness from time to time, depressed individuals experience depression to a degree that is distinctly different than normal sadness. A manic episode is characterized by mood that is unusually happy or irritable, as well as other symptoms, such as impulsivity, racing thoughts, high energy, and pressured speech.

The diagnosis of manic-depressive disorder was later shortened to bipolar disorder to reflect that mood states appeared to be on opposite ends of a pole. There are different types of bipolar disorder and various degrees of severity among people with bipolar disorder.

People with depression often experience irritable mood and mood swings. They may appear to be in a good mood one moment, and then burst into tears the next moment. This can be confusing for friends and family, as well as for the person experiencing these mood shifts. Sometimes friends and family members may be quick to suggest bipolar disorder as an explanation for these mood changes, but that is only one possible explanation. There are other reasons why someone may experience mood swings. Such reasons include:

  • Improper nutrition or extreme dieting
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • A medical condition affecting mood, such as a thyroid disorder.

A medical professional such as a psychologist can determine whether an individual has bipolar disorder, and can work with the individual to figure out other reasons for the mood swings.