4 Surprising signs of Bipolar

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4 Surprising signs of Bipolar
Sun, 03-25-2012 - 10:32am

Bipolar disorder has been all over the headlines recently, from Charlie Sheen’s highly publicized rants leading many to suspect that the star is exhibiting “mania” (a telltale sign of bipolar disorder's emotional highs) to Catherine Zeta Jones seeking treatment for bipolar II, a milder form of the disorder. But the mental health condition goes far beyond Hollywood — and according to recent research, many people with the condition don’t even know they have it.

Fewer than half of people in the United States who show classic signs of bipolar disorder actually get diagnosed and treated, says a recent Archives of General Psychiatry report on a survey of more than 61,000 adults in 11 countries — the United States, Mexico, China, Japan, Brazil, Colombia, India, Lebanon, Bulgaria, Romania, and New Zealand. Bipolar patients in lower-income nations get even less treatment — in some cases, as few as 25 percent receive help.

Compared to the other 10 countries studied, the United States had the highest rate of bipolar disorder (4.4 percent of those surveyed fell somewhere on the bipolar spectrum). India had the lowest (0.1 percent). Overall, about 2.4 percent of those interviewed in the face-to-face survey could be classified as having bipolar disorder.

Bipolar Disorder’s Most Surprising Symptoms

It may be buzz-worthy these days, but many people don’t fully understand bipolar disorder and the symptoms that can lead to proper diagnosis and treatment. Bipolar, also sometimes called manic-depressive disorder, is characterized by shifts from extreme highs (known as mania) to emotional lows (depression), with “normal” moods in between.

It’s bipolar disorder’s manic phase that most sets it apart from other common mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. While many people associate mania with high energy and exaggeratedly good moods, these other key symptoms are more subtle:

  • Reckless spending . If a friend is blowing her paycheck on shopping sprees she can’t afford, watch out. A person in a manic phase of bipolar disorder is more likely to take big risks, including spending splurges that can lead to mountains of unmanageable debt.
  • Super-charged sex drive . A sudden revving up of a person's sex drive, obsessively thinking or talking about sex, or engaging in sexual encounters he otherwise wouldn’t (like a one-night stand or sex with someone he doesn't know well) are all symptoms of hypersexuality, another less-obvious mania clue.
  • Alcohol or drug abuse. These often go hand-in-hand with manic episodes: As many as 60 percent of people with bipolar disorder have abused alcohol or drugs at some point in their lives. Depressants such as alcohol or pain pills can send a person with mania straight into depression, while stimulants like cocaine can have the opposite effect.
  • Skimping on shut-eye. Little need for sleep is another red flag that a person may be having a manic episode.

Read about other common bipolar symptoms, including those related to depressive episodes.

Related: What Not to Say to Someone With Bipolar Disorder


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