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Facts for Policymakers: Treatable Causes of Disability

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder, or manic depressive illness, is a serious brain disorder that causes extreme shifts in mood, energy, and functioning. It affects 2.3 million adult Americans, which is about 1.2 percent of the population, and can run in families.

  • Bipolar disorder is characterized by episodes of mania and depression that can last from days to months. (Figure 3)
  • Bipolar disorder is a chronic and generally life-long condition with recurring episodes that often begin in adolescence or early adulthood, and occasionally even in children. It generally requires lifelong treatment.

Medications are Effective

Medication is an essential part of successful treatment for people with bipolar disorder. Maintenance treatment with mood stabilizer medications substantially reduces the number and severity of episodes for most people.

  • While the exact cause of bipolar disorder is not known, most researchers believe it is the result of a chemical imbalance in certain parts of the brain.
  • While there is no cure for bipolar disorder, it is a treatable and manageable illness once it is correctly diagnosed.
  • Substance abuse is a common and destructive "self medication" for people with bipolar disorder who do not have access to or do not use quality psychiatric care.
  • Changes in medications or doses may be necessary, as well as changes in treatment plans during different stages of the illness.

Child and Adolescent Bipolar Disorder

  • The emergence of an understanding that bipolar disorder can impact teens and children has helped to increase treatment to severely mood disordered children, who are frequent users of intensive school resources and juvenile justice resources.
  • Although once thought rare, caseloads of patients examined for federally funded the studies have shown that approximately 7 percent of children seen at psychiatric facilities fit the bipolar disorder criteria using research standards.
  • At this time there are several ongoing studies of how to best treat children with bipolar disorder, but until more scientific data is available, clinicians are left using their best judgment on how to manage medications that have been effective in adults.

Childhood Bipolar Disorder
Affects Futures

Children with bipolar disorder are the group of children least likely to graduate from high school among all disability groups in a recent survey.

  • Is suicide a risk? Yes. Children talking about wanting to die, or asking why they were born or wishing they were never born must be taken very seriously as even quite young children can hang themselves in the shower, shoot themselves or complete suicide by other means.
  • Children with bipolar disorder are the group of children least likely to graduate from high school among all disability groups in a recent survey.

Next Page: Anxiety Disorders

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