This week, we were asked to write about the most memorable thing we learned in Psych 1001. Although I initially thought the Principles of Scientific Thinking would be most important to me, I instead decided that I would write about something only discussed briefly in our text but has been very influential in my life: Bipolar disorder, or more accurately, the bipolar spectrum.
Why, you may ask, did I make that clarification? Contrary to what our book portrays, there are actually a variety of bipolar disorders. The three most common are Bipolar I, Bipolar II, and Cyclothymia.
Bipolar Disorder Type I
This disorder, which is described in our text, is characterized by periods of major depressive and manic episodes. You can find the specific symptoms of depressive and manic episodes on the Mayo Clinic Website. Depressive episodes are normally characterized by sadness, feelings of hopelessness, lack of interest in pleasurable activities, guilt, and anxiety, while manic episodes normally involve impulsivity, increased energy, decreased need for sleep, rapid speech, and racing thoughts. The symptoms of Bipolar I are normally severe and cause major problems in every day life.
Bipolar Disorder Type II
This disorder is the closest on the spectrum because I have it; I was actually diagnosed earlier this semester and used my psychology textbook to better understand my disorder.
Bipolar II is very similar to Type I in that it involves major mood swings. However, Bipolar II is characterized by the presence of hypomanic episodes (a less severe type of mania), which are not as disruptive to everyday functioning. During a hypomanic episode, individuals may feel more self-confident, more productive, and more irritable than normal. In Bipolar II, depressive episodes normally last longer than hypomanic episodes but are still marked by the same symptoms as in Bipolar I.
Cyclothymia is one of the milder forms of bipolar disorder. It still involves periods of obvious highs and lows, but they are not as disruptive as in Bipolar I and II.
Bipolar disorders are normally diagnosed following a manic episode, which normally first occurs in an individual's late teens or early twenties. Bipolar disorder is influenced by many factors, including genetics (with a heritability of almost 85%), neurotransmitters (especially dopamine and serotonin), and structural differences in the brain. It is also important to remember that some drugs and other substances, such as caffeine, can imitate the symptoms of manic episodes, so it's best to be evaluated by a general physician, psychiatrist, or psychologist if you think you may have a type of bipolar disorder.
The reason the book's discussion on bipolar disorder will stick with me more than anything else I have learned this semester is because of the extent that I used it as I was going through the process of being diagnosed. Not only was I able to use the text's definition of bipolar I, I was also able to use the explanations of the different neurotransmitters and brain regions involved in bipolar II to better understand the biological basis.