World Bipolar day is celebrated on March 30, the birthday of Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh who died by suicide at 37 and was posthumously diagnosed as probably having a bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that causes changes in a person’s mood, energy and ability to function.[i] People living with bipolar disorder experience intense emotional states that include episodes of mania and depression. These mood episodes differ from the typical ups-and-downs most people experience, and can last a few weeks or up to several months.
According to NAMI, about 2.8% of the U.S. population is diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The average age of onset is 25, but people can experience symptoms for the first time earlier or later in life.[ii]
Van Gogh did not get the help he needed and there wasn’t the same understanding of mental health as there is today. Since bipolar disorder is chronic and often worsens without treatment, it’s important to understand the disorder, reduce stigma and seek help for yourself or a loved one. Here are five facts to know about bipolar disorder.
- There are different forms of bipolar disorder.
There are three main types of bipolar disorder, according to NIMH, which include moods of extremely “up” (manic) to very “down” (depressive) episodes. Bipolar I, which is characterized by one or more manic episodes that last at least a week and may require hospitalization to stay safe; bipolar II, which is characterized by more depressive (sad) episodes; and cyclothymic disorder, which has recurring manic and depressive symptoms that are less intense than bipolar 1 or 2.[iii]
- Bipolar disorder has many causes.
The most common causes include genetics and brain structure and function.ii There’s no one gene that causes the disorder, but the chances of developing bipolar disorder are increased if a child’s parents or siblings have the disorder. And while brain scans can’t diagnose bipolar disorder, some studies show differences in the brains of people with bipolar disorder which may help inform which treatments work best.
- Anyone can struggle with suicide, especially those who have bipolar disorder.
People with bipolar disorder experience high suicide rates – up to 20% die by suicide and up to 60% make a non-fatal suicide attempt.[iv] While the highs of mania generally are seen as the ones that need immediate treatment, suicide risk is strongly associated with depressive phases.[v] It’s especially high in days following discharge from psychiatric hospitalization.
- Bipolar disorder often presents other health conditions.
Additional health conditions appear at higher rates among those already living with bipolar, including other psychological conditions, such as ADHD or anxiety disorders, and metabolic disorders, including obesity and type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and migraines.[vi] Research suggests that these additional physical health issues contribute to a reduced life expectancy for those living with bipolar – it’s 12-13 years lower than for people without bipolar.[vii]
- Treatment helps people with bipolar to live full, productive lives.
While there is no cure for bipolar disorder, living a healthy lifestyle, counseling and medication can help people control bipolar symptoms.[viii] Medications commonly used to treat bipolar disorder include mood stabilizers, antipsychotics and antidepressants. However, some antidepressants can increase the risk of suicide, and new treatment options are needed for those who have bipolar depression when suicidality (strong suicidal thoughts or intentions) is present.[ix]
988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline
988 is the a three-digit dialing code that will connect callers in crisis to trained counselors that will listen, understand how their problems are affecting them, provide support, and connect them to resources, if necessary. It’s free and confidential, open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, across the United States.
[i] What are bipolar disorders? Psychiatry.org – What Are Bipolar Disorders? (2021, January). Retrieved March 27, 2023, from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/bipolar-disorders/what-are-bipolar-disorders.[ii] Bipolar disorder. NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). (2017, August). Retrieved March 27, 2023, from https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Bipolar-Disorder.
[iii] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2023, February). Bipolar disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved March 27, 2023, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/bipolar-disorder.
[iv] Wisner, W. (2022, July 26). Are suicide rates higher for people with bipolar disorder? Healthline. Retrieved March 27, 2023, from https://www.healthline.com/health/suicide-and-bipolar.
[v] Baldessarini, R. J., Vázquez, G. H., & Tondo, L. (2020). Bipolar depression: A major unsolved challenge. International Journal of Bipolar Disorders, 8(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40345-019-0160-1.
[vi] Hvilivitzky, T. (2023, January 19). Top 5 Medical Conditions Co-Occurring with Bipolar. bpHope.com. Retrieved March 27, 2023, from https://www.bphope.com/bipolar-buzz/the-top-co-occurring-medical-conditions-related-to-bipolar-disorder/.
[vii] Laursen, T. M. (2011). Life expectancy among persons with schizophrenia or bipolar affective disorder. Schizophrenia Research, 131(1-3), 101–104. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.schres.2011.06.008.
[viii] WebMD. (2022, October 31). Bipolar disorder treatment. WebMD. Retrieved March 27, 2023, from https://www.webmd.com/bipolar-disorder/guide/understanding-bipolar-disorder-treatment.
[ix] Mauney, M. (2022, November 21). Suicide and antidepressants – increased anxiety, related suicides. Drugwatch.com. Retrieved March 27, 2023, from https://www.drugwatch.com/ssri/suicide/.