In 1990, Congress designated the first full week of every October to be National Mental HealthAwareness Week. This year that week is October 7-13, 2007 and October 11th is both National Depression Screening Day, sponsored by Screening for Mental Health, Inc., and Bipolar Disorder Awareness Day. Bipolar Disorder Awareness Day is organized by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), a non-profit group which is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to improving the lives of persons living with serious mental illness and their families.
Bipolar disorder is also called manic depression or manic-depressive illness, but its treatment is different from that of depression (see below). It is a chronic brain disorder that causes extreme shifts in mood, energy and ability to function. It is characterized by episodes of mania (being overly ‘high’) and depression (being irritable, sad or hopeless) that can last from days to months. Symptoms often begin in adolescence or early adulthood and can result in poor school performance, poor job performance, damaged relationships, substance abuse, criminal or other irrational behavior and even suicide. Oftentimes depression dominates the clinical picture and mania may go unrecognized, especially if it is mild (called hypomania) or occurs only rarely. However, the recognition of mania is critical to the proper diagnosis of bipolar disorder, which might otherwise be diagnosed as depression (also called unipolar depression).
The treatment of bipolar disorder is different from the treatment of depression. Everyone knows that depression is treated with anti-depressants. But bipolar disorder, even though it has depression as a component, needs to be treated with mood stabilizers first and foremost. Anti-depressants play a much lesser role, if any, in the treatment of bipolar disorder, and they can actually make the illness worse (especially if used alone without mood stabilizers). You can see why proper diagnosis is so important.
In recognition of Bipolar Awareness Day, HealthTalk has created a Special Feature page with a wide variety of useful information, including treatment information, on this illness.
Bipolar Awareness Day was created by NAMI and Abbott Laboratories to, according to the NAMI Web site “increase awareness of bipolar disorder, promote early detection and accurate diagnosis, reduce stigma, and minimize the devastating impact on the 2.3 million Americans presently affected by the disorder.” The government’s National Institute of Mental Health states that about 5.7 million American adults have bipolar disorder in any given year. Other estimates put the number of people with bipolar disorder at 10 million.