Medicine and Health

Women and Bipolar Disorder


Mental illness has long been a forbidden topic throughout the generations. In fact, it has only been in the recent years that families have been able to come to terms with the fact that one in four adults, or roughly fifty-seven million Americans, have experienced a mental illness. While these numbers are striking, what is more concerning is the fact that the vast majority of those who suffer from severe mental illnesses are women. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 5% of all women in the United States suffer from serious diseases and mental health conditions such as Major Depressive Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, ADHD and even Autism Disorder. While men also clearly pay the price of having a mental illness, they only account for just over 3% of all leading mental health disorders in the country (National Institute of Mental Health. 2003.). One of the most devastating mental illnesses to go undiagnosed is Bipolar Disorder. To thoroughly understand bipolar disorder is to understand the more than dozens of signs and symptoms that plague those affected by the disorder.

Bipolar Diagnosis and Classifications

While bipolar disorder can affect both women and men alike, the way the illness manifests is different for everyone. It is believed that gender differences contribute to a huge piece of this puzzle. Women, for instance, often encounter more “rapid-cycling” within the disease, whereas, men usually experience the extreme swings from depression to mania, and vice versa. Why rapid cycling appears more commonly in women, is not exactly known (Blehar, M.C. et al. 1998). The three classifications within bipolar disorder will help patients and loved ones understand their symptoms better. In order to treat the bipolar, we must understand the symptoms and differences between each category of the bipolar disease. The three main bipolar categories are Bipolar I, Bipolar II, and cyclothymic bipolar. Bipolar I is the most severe of bipolar diagnoses where sufferers frequently encounter at least one severe episode of depression, and one full-blown manic episode in their lifetime. Due to the fact that it presents extreme symptoms, bipolar I is easier to diagnose. Bipolar II is a little more complex to determine as the sufferer can just be depressed and “hypomanic,” which is somewhat manic, but not experiencing a full-blown episode of mania. Hypomanic symptoms are much more difficult to diagnose. Bipolar II is classified as such when sufferers have a minimum of one milder form of mania and one major depressive episode (National Institute of Mental Health. 2003.). Nevertheless, Bipolar II sufferers never experience a full-blown manic or mixed episode. Hypomania is referred to as a lower-grade-type mania with the least serious symptoms. The fundamental variation between hypomania and mania is that mania prevents some individuals from functioning in their day to day living. Cyclothymic is the most common type of bipolar disorder in women, and it consists of many hypomanic and depressive symptoms as categorized over at least a twenty-four month period. Though it is intriguing; nevertheless, the bipolar symptoms mentioned above are not acute enough or do not continue for a long enough amount of time to be viewed as just simple mood swings. Given the American woman’s role and responsibility as a mother, wife, caregiver and employee, it is easy for both her and the society in which she lives to miss the signs completely. For this reason, it is very simple to neglect and misdiagnose a woman as not having bipolar disorder. Mood fluctuations might mimic problems that are more ordinarily experienced by women in their everyday lives (Blehar, M.C. et al. 1998). For this reason, it is essential for patients and family members to know and understand what such mood disturbances are. Individuals suffering from a bipolar condition have mood episodes that fall under two broad categories: depression and mania.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

It is crucial to know that while individuals are diagnosed with the disorder, it does not necessarily mean that they will show signs of depression. Actually, individuals are frequently misdiagnosed as being depressed when bipolar disorder is undoubtedly the perpetrator. Therefore, symptoms of mania are crucial to the diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Signs of mania itself would be adequate in diagnosing an individual with bipolar, and such symptoms include unusual energy, restlessness, rapid thoughts, irritation and accelerated speech (Altshuler, L.L, et al.,1993). The checklist proceeds with added mania symptoms, for example, excessive excitement, extreme frustration and distractibility, reduced need for sleep, uncharacteristically poor judgment, increased sex drive, extreme fear of rejection and dangerous behavior. The signs of depression are just as many. Some of these include constant sadness or an empty feeling, feelings that there is “no hope”, remorse and feelings of worthlessness among others. Depression can also be referred to as having reduced power and ideas of dying or suicide. Generally, the particular signs and intensity of mood episodes fluctuate between people (National Institute of Mental Health. 2003).

Treatment of Bipolar Disorder

Treatment for bipolar disorder is directed at stabilizing mood to prevent the results of both manic and depressive states. Generally, long-term therapy is needed to alleviate and avoid bipolar disorder signs in women. Treatment frequently requires prescription drugs and talk therapy. Medication remedies include Abilify, Lithium, Tegretol, Lamictal, Depakote and Seroquel among others. Some of those medications bring caution that their use might raise the danger of suicidal behavior and ideas in some individuals. New or deteriorating symptoms, unusual changes in mood or conduct, or suicidal ideas or behavior must be reported to and then supervised by the patient’s doctor.

Of the most significant details that need to be viewed among female patients diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder is what program of therapy to consider in the event of pregnancy (National Institute of Mental Health. 2003). Although it is critical that females continue therapy throughout pregnancy, dangers for the infant will also be regarded. During pregnancy, drug therapy might be slightly decreased to reduce the risk. Generally, physicians favor lithium and older medicines including Haldol (haloperidol) and Thorazine (chlorpromazine) during pregnancy. That is simply because they have proven less danger than some additional medicines for the unborn infant (Altshuler, L.L, et al., 1993).

Advocacy and Resources

Bipolar Disorder being such a serious illness, every woman with bipolar must be her own advocate if it is at all a possibility. She must understand what the medications are, what they are intended to cure and why she needs to take them regularly and without ceasing. Family and friends must also stand as support in the event that the patient is unable to make prudent decisions, which are in accordance with the way she should live her life. Numerous sources of information may be found throughout the internet, as well as at any local library, in fact, there is an excellent book called “Bipolar for Dummies” (from the beloved “Dummy” series). Probably the best source that one can turn to is the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Not only does NAMI produce literature on the topic, it also holds meetings all over the world for those affected by mental illness (and their families). If one looks deep enough, it is quite easy to find resources from those who have experienced (or whose family has experienced) bipolar symptoms themselves. When meeting individuals and families who have been touched by the disease, we find that it is impossible to ignore such extraordinary personalities and lives that have suffered through bipolar, yet who have also touched our world in remarkable ways. It is commonly held that those diagnosed with bipolar are more creative, sometimes more charismatic and oftentimes genius. In fact, the majority of issues that evolve from such sufferers are the problem that the medications bring on. It is well known that bipolar medications can dull minds, taking away an affected person’s creativity and the impulsivity that has led them to create such amazing (literary, artistic and academic) works. After the research that I performed and the many articles and journals I read, I found it surprising to know just how convoluted bipolar can be, within the mind of a woman that is. Those of us that are not experts on the subject find it difficult to understand that all women suffering with bipolar are not mothers crying in bed all day. We can all put a label on mental illness, and the bipolar example is exactly the route that researches must work on; this is because there is no enough information about the true effects that bipolar disorder can have on a woman.








Altshuler, L.L., Henrick V., Cohen, L.S., (1998). Course of mood and anxiety disorders             during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 59 (2), 29-33.

Blehar, M.C., DePaulo J.R. Jr., Gershon, E.S., Reich, T., Simpson, S.G., Nurnberger, J.I.          Jr.        (1998). Women with bipolar disorder: findings from the NIMH Genetics Initiative           sample. Psychopharmacology Bulletin, 34(3), 239-243.

NIMH · Statistics · Prevalence of Serious Mental Illness Among U.S. Adults by Age, Sex,       and Race. NIMH. Home. N.p., n.d. Retrieved from: