Bipolar Disorder: The Highs, the Lows, and the In-Between

Many years ago, my first diagnosis was bipolar disorder, although it was called manic depression at the time. I got a mixed message from my psychiatrist. Manic depression was the affliction of geniuses over the centuries--a mistaken impression that it was a bit like an exclusive club. But he also told me I shouldn't have children. Fortunately, times have changed. Yet bipolar disorder remains one of the most complex, pernicious and challenging of all mental illnesses. Valerie and I both live in recovery with bipolar disorder, but as we researched the episode, the enormity and power of the subject was overwhelming. What was originally planned to be one episode became two.

In our first episode, Episode 24, we report on the background of a disorder that strikes 5.7 million adult Americans each year. Diagnosis, symptoms, treatment, medications, and relationships are all investigated. Causes are explored in this illness that has a very strong genetic component. There is no cure for bipolar disorder, and if untreated it can get worse with time. However, with proper treatment, the individual can lead a productive and fulfilling life. 

Another complication of bipolar disorder is that there are illnesses within the illness. There are differences between Bipolar I and Bipolar II, yet the symptoms can overlap. The same is true for the extreme mood states: mania and depression. As Katherine Ponte said, "It's the mania that gets you into trouble, but it's the depression that kills you." I should add that the suicide rate is extremely high in both the mania and depression of bipolar disorder.

We are very fortunate to have a national expert in the field, Dr. Stephen Strakowski, as our guest in the first episode. On the cutting edge of the clinical and research components, he presents valuable information about bipolar disorder and the groundbreaking discoveries in research that give hope for future treatments and outcomes. One study is focusing on the reward-driven cause of mania in the brain. It was fascinating revelations like this one that convinced Valerie and me that we would have to continue exploring in a second episode, Episode 27. There we examine the strong genetic roles and the frequency of co-occurring illnesses, among other topics.

If you're interested in or affected by bipolar disorder, please listen to one or both episodes. We have tried to shed some light on various aspects of bipolar disorder. Valerie and I hope our podcast can help support and educate those who have it, and those who love and care for them.

Written by: Helen Sneed