What Is Bipolar Disorder And What Can Be Done To Treat It & How To Live With Someone Who Has Bipolar

Tomorrow I will curse the dawn, but there will be other, earlier nights, and the dawns will be no longer hell laid out in alarms and raw bells and sirens.
~ Sylvia Plath

It would appear to me and I’ve read some articles that seem to suggest that the mad and frenetic pace of our society seems to incur a cost to our mental health. It appears that the Western World has much higher rates of many mental illnesses as compared to other more agrarian or less developed societies and cultures.

I hope to explore this briefly today as we discuss what is bipolar and how we might be able to deal with loved ones who suffer from this debilitating illness as well as how best to manage this and other mental illnesses like it.

Again, as with our depression vs sadness discussion we’ll first take a look at the medical literature to understand what the medical community means when they talk about bipolar disorder. A thorough guide is offered by the National Institutes for Medical Health’s Bipolar Disorder Guide.

Generally, bipolar disorder is a “brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. Symptoms of bipolar disorder are severe.” As quoted from the NIMH website. This is not your normal happiness and sadness that most of us experience. Rather these are severe swings that can affect the person suffering with this disorder’s whole life. They may go days without sleep if in a manic episode or they may become suicidal and listless for days and weeks at a time if in a depressive episode.

There are 4 levels of bipolar disorder also known as manic-depressive illness, from Cyclothymic Disorder (mild form) to Bipolar I Disorder (severe) which may require immediate hospitalization. Cyclothymia basically meaning a mood disorder characterized by alternating states of elation and depression.

Sadly, bipolar disorder is a lifelong illness that usually manifests in the late teens to early adulthood. In fact more than half of all bipolar cases start before the age of 25.

Around 2.4% of the world’s population will have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder at some point in their lives. The US leads the pack at 4.4% and India brings up the rear at 0.1%. This is quite a serious illness affecting many people. However, as I mentioned earlier there could be social constructs in the poorer countries that protect people from this and other mental illnesses. I think there needs to be more research in this area, but it would seem to me that the lack of larger social and familial ties could be one of the criteria that affect the prevalence of this disease in higher income countries.

Nevertheless, bipolar disorder will last a lifetime from what the research suggests and as such needs to be managed for the person’s entire life.

Along with bipolar disorder there is also oftentimes substance abuse – perhaps as a method of self medication – as well as there being anxiety disorder often associated with people who have bipolar disorder. Bipolar can be hard to identify because it contains two alternating states, so often someone is diagnosed as depressed when in actuality they might just be in a depressive episode or cycle within the bipolar disorder illness.

Medication along with psychotherapy is often the treatment protocol for folks with bipolar. Unfortunately, many of the drugs used are powerful antipsychotics mood stabilizers and antidepressants which have some serious side effects. Nontheless, the side effects are less severe than dealing with and perhaps losing someone to bipolar disorder.

The best thing you can do if someone you love is suffering from this difficult illness is to be supportive both emotionally and mentally. Mentally in the sense that they’ll often need your support and presence when dealing with the medical establishment and setting up appointments and making sure that they receive an accurate diagnosis.

It can be very difficult to deal with someone who is suffering from bipolar until they are under managed care. But the outcome for dealing with this mental illness is very promising.

We all thrive on love, kindness and support. And this is especially true for the most vulnerable amongst us who are often those suffering from mental illness. Sadly, we oftentimes discard those who are not valuable contributing members of society – like the mentally ill – into homes and the fringes of society. This is not only unkind but cruel and unnecessary.

I urge you to start thinking about the mad world that we have created, where consumerism and greed and selfishness are rewarded. Is it then no surprise that a mad world mirrors itself by the number of mad people who reflect the insanity and unnaturalness of the environment we live in.

I believe that the mentally ill are our canaries in this coal mine we’ve created. Our society is fractured and broken and it is my opinion that in time as we come to understand the intimate relationship between our crazy world and those sweet souls that manifest the illness that this crazy world creates we will come to change the direction of our society.

I hope in the meantime that through understanding, caring, kindness and compassion that we can help the vulnerable contribute and offer their gifts that are equally needed for our world to grow and for the human spirit to evolve.

Please do not abandon those who are the most fragile and need our help even more at their dire time of need. Taking just a bit of time to unearth the illnesses and problems that they are burdened with will help us all in the long run.


  1. I look at this post from the other side. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 1 way back in 1982. My then wife was neither understanding or sympathetic. My bipolar episodes were often very extreme. Our marriage broke up after one such episode.
    About seven years ago I remarried. My new wife is very caring and understanding. I have not had a bipolar episode since my remarriage.
    Friends and loved ones of someone with a mental disorder do have an extremely important part to play in that persons life.

  2. Thanks for sharing Ray,

    I can imagine it is tough for loved ones too. I’m delighted that things are working out in your second marriage 🙂



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