According to the National Institute of Mental Health, bipolar disorder affects approximately 5.7 million American adults. There are several types of bipolar disorder that involve episodes of mania and depression in varying degrees. Bipolar I and II are the most common types of the disorder; however, mixed bipolar, cyclothymic disorder, and rapid-cycling bipolar have common elements, as well. Here’s a breakdown of each one:
Individuals with bipolar I disorder typically cycle between mania and depression with stretches that have no symptoms in between episodes. Untreated, these episodes can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.
Mania is defined as highly elevated moods shadowed by abnormal or erratic behavior that may include jumping from one “great” idea to the next, increased energy, extravagant spending, or an inflated self-image. These moods are often followed by depressive episodes where the individual loses enjoyment in everyday activities and relationships, has difficulty focusing or concentrating, is persistently sad, and may even have recurring thoughts of suicide or death. Bipolar I disorder is the most severe form of the illness due to the extreme manic episodes.
Sometimes referred as the “milder form of bipolar disorder,” the symptoms for bipolar II disorder also include highs and lows, although they are not quite as intense. The highs for this disorder are called “hypomania” that sometimes go unrecognized, while the individual’s depressive episodes can be misdiagnosed as major depression.
A couple of years ago, actress Catherine Zeta-Jones revealed that she was being treated for bipolar II disorder after helping her husband, Michael Douglas, battle throat cancer. This helped to shed new light on a mental illness that can strike at any time in a person’s life, sometimes following a long period of stress and anxiety.
Mixed episodes are when symptoms of mania and depression occur simultaneously or in rapid succession. While the individual may feel highly elated and exhibit grandiose behavior, they can also be moody, irritable, short-tempered, or sad. Generally, these type of episodes take place with people who have bipolar I disorder. Also, adolescents who have bipolar disorder at a young age are more likely to develop mixed bipolar symptoms.
Compared to other types of mood disorders, cyclothymia is relatively mild. Its symptoms are characterized by shorter periods of hypomania and mild depression. The episodes can last for a few days up to several weeks, sometimes with normal periods in between. Or the episodes can continuously cycle from one mood to the next. Because cyclothymia is a very mild form of bipolar disorder, it straddles the line between mental illness and moodiness. However, the severity of this disorder can change over time.
Rapid-cycling describes the pattern and frequency of bipolar episodes. This happens when someone experiences four or more manic, hypomanic, or depressive episodes within a twelve month timeframe. It can occur with any type of bipolar disorder, although people with bipolar II and women are more likely to experience it. Rapid-cycling can also come and go at different times during an individual’s lifetime.
Belgian actor and kickboxer Jean-Claude Van Damme was divorced four times, addicted to cocaine, and charged with domestic violence before being diagnosed with rapid-cycling bipolar. Once he started receiving the proper treatment, he said the commotion around him settled down and he felt everything kick in place.
If you suspect that you or someone you love is suffering from a bipolar disorder, please contact a qualified mental health professional who can recommend the best course of treatment after a comprehensive evaluation.