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Bipolar is a mood disorder characterized by sudden, severe, and distinct energy and mood shifts between mania and depression. Some bipolar disorders may be at least in part a result of substance use, prescribed or unprescribed. Other variations of the disorder may occur without any precipitating substance use.
Bipolar disorder can be successfully managed through a combination of medication, lifestyle (diet, exercise, etc.) and supportive psychotherapy, but it's more severe forms are unlikely to resolve without assertive treatment.
Mood swings greatly affect everyday life and are much more severe than the normal ups and downs experienced by the general population. There are several different classifications of bipolar depending on severity of symptoms and time between swings. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 2.6% of the U.S. population 18 and older has bipolar disorder and 83% of those cases are considered severe and may include psychosis or suicidal attempts.
Bipolar disorder can be difficult to diagnose, and this is especially true in teens and young adults. With shifting hormones, personality development, individuation, and stressful life challenges, teens and young adults may exhibit traits of bipolar disorder but not actually have the disorder. Conversely, someone who truly does have the illness may not get properly diagnosed; they can struggle with serious mood swings for years and have it incorrectly chalked up to “being a teen”.
According to National Association for Mental Illness, the average age of onset is 25, but it can develop much earlier and some young people exhibit traits before the illness has completely set in. In fact, bipolar disorder appears before age 20 in about one in five individuals who experience mania in their lives.
Bipolar is a serious mental health issue and is also increasingly treatable. Various prescription medications, psychotherapy and mindfulness practices have proven effective to help those with the disorder cope and live healthy lives. If you think yourself or a loved one may have bipolar disorder, seek professional help. Because bipolar tends to be a long-lasting mental health challenge, the sooner an individual is diagnosed and receives proper treatment and healthful training, the more likely they are to develop a support plan that works for them.