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Bipolar affective disorder is a very unusual psychological disorder that received a lot of attention from the media. Despite all the press, bipolar disorder is statistically rare. Only 1% of the population is diagnosed with it. Unlike depression, which occurs more often in females, bipolar disorder occurs and is diagnosed in equal numbers of males and females. Bipolar disorder was once known as manic-depression because the person diagnosed with bipolar disorder shifts from states of depression to mania.

During the depressive phase, the person with bipolar disorder falls into a deep depression. All of the symptoms of depression can be seen: feelings of sadness, a loss of pleasure in activities that once were pleasurable, loss of energy, and a general slow down. Research shows that depressed persons actually require more time to complete cognitive tasks. It may feel as if your brain slows down, and it actually does! What makes bipolar disorder different from major depression, psychologists' term for the run-of-the-mill depression, is that persons with bipolar disorder swing from this depressive state to a manic state.

The manic phase is the exact opposite of the depressive phase. Whereas in the depressive phase thinking is slowed, in the manic phase it is speeded up. Symptoms of mania include: excessive activity, accelerated speech, and poor judgment. During the manic phase extremely high self esteem is evident, the person becomes more sociable, and impulsive behavior often occurs. Because thinking is speeded up, the person experiencing mania wants to act quickly and keep up with their racing thoughts.

As for causes, bipolar disorder tends to run in families, suggesting a genetic component. Blood relatives of persons diagnosed with bipolar disorder have higher chances of being diagnosed themselves. Additional support for a biological cause is that bipolar disorder responds well to drugs. Mood stabilizing drugs are used, most notably, lithium. About 70-80% of patients will respond to lithium within 2 weeks. Lithium is thought to regulate levels of neurotransmitters but is not well understood.