Types of Bipolar Disorder

Diane and Lisa Berger wrote a hard-hitting book about manic depression called We Heard the Angels of Madness. Bipolar: a virulent disorder with many faces In that book, they describe bipolar disorder as "a virulent disorder with many faces". They compare bipolar to the multi-headed Hydra of Greek mythology, which sprouted several new heads for each one slain.

The analogy is, for each question that researchers answer about bipolar disorder, even more questions are raised. Symptoms and their severity are different from one person to the next, like ever changing faces on the Hydra monster.

With these variations in how bipolar manifests itself, the challenge for the mental health professionals is to define the characteristics of each type of bipolar disorder. This would enable an accurate diagnosis and lead to a proper treatment plan for each sufferer.

In the United States, the primary classification system is that found in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, also known as the DSM-IV. This manual is the mental health community's bible for the classification and diagnosis of all mental disorders. It organizes the mood disorders under the heading of Clinical Disorders (Axis I). The next volume, DSM-V, is now in the works to be published.

The Types of Bipolar Disorder

The various types of bipolar disorder are identified by the severity of the mood swings between the two opposite extremes: unusual happiness, elation, and high energy (mania); and bouts of depression, hopelessness, and a complete lack of energy (depression). Medical professionals have categorized the different kinds of bipolar disorder by the degree to which the manic and depressive behaviors each exist in a person.

The different types of bipolar disorder are summarized below. Click on a name for a more detailed description.

Bipolar Type 1 - also called bipolar i disorder - this is the “full strength” bipolar disorder, with mood swings that range between severe mania to deep depression. Both ends of the mood spectrum are at their strongest.

Bipolar Type 2 - also called bipolar 2 disorder or bipolar type ii - this is a milder form of the illness, involving less extreme periods of mania (called hypomania or hypomanic) that alternate with depression. Bipolar type 2 sufferers can still experience major episodes of depression, as do those with bipolar type 1.

Cyclothymia - also called Cyclothymic Disorder; this form of bipolar involves the mildest levels of mania and depression. Neither of the moods reach the extreme levels that the other types of bipolar bring about.

Bipolar NOS (Not Otherwise Specified) - this is a catch-all category for the types of bipolar that, according to the DSM-IV, don't fit the other three main categories. Mania or depression can be present but the episodes do not look like unipolar or like any of the three main types of bipolar disorder listed above. The DSM-IV distinguishes bipolar NOS in terms of the duration of the episodes - not being long enough to qualify the illness as being any of the other types of bipolar.

Mixed Bipolar - mania and depression are both present at the same exact time. This period has been described as a simultaneous mix of grandiosity, racing thoughts, and energy, while also being irritable, angry, and feeling bad. It can be a dangerous combination, as the individual is more compelled to act on his or her feelings of anger or depression.

Rapid Cycling Bipolar - this form of bipolar is characterized by four or more mood swings occurring within a 12 month period. This variation of bipolar can cause full mood swings repeatedly during a single week, or even within a single day. Rapid-cycling bipolar can increase the person’s risk of severe depression and for attempted suicide.

Dysthymia - also called Dysthymic Disorder; this illness is not clinically a type of bipolar bisorder, but is often mentioned in the same breath. It is also called chronic depression, and lasts at least two years. Its symptoms are not as intense as those of severe depression but it can still disrupt a person’s normal everyday life.

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