Mental Health Awareness Week

October 7-13 is national Mental Health Awareness Week, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health.

I sometimes casually mention being depressed or having volatile moods or taking medication, but I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk about it more in-depth.

I have bipolar 2 disorder.

One of the best places to find out about the differences between “classic” manic/depressive bipolar (or bipolar 1) and bipolar 2 is The author of that page is a researcher in the field and an advocate for helping people with bipolar 2.

The best visualization I’ve seen for defining mood disorders comes from the PsychEducation website. Dr. Phelps sees bipolar and mood disorders as a spectrum disorder (much like autism). While his opinion is not expressed in the DSM-IV (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association), his descriptions fit so well with my experience, I tend to go with it.

“Unipolar” refers to unipolar depression – clinical depression, major depression. Point A refers to people with depression who respond well to traditional medication. Point B is a point where:

 there is some sort of threshold where these approaches are no longer completely or continuously effective: either they don’t work at all, offer only partial relief, or help for a while then “stop working” (which may account for some or much of “Prozac poop-out”, now regarded as a “soft sign” of bipolar disorder, described below).  

 BP NOS is “bipolar not otherwise specified”. 

The main difference between bipolar 1 and bipolar 2 is the level of mania.

A person with bipolar 1 has had at least one fully manic episode. Mania is defined as:

manic episode is defined by a distinct period of persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood lasting at least one week (or less if hospitalization is required). The mood is also accompanied by additional symptoms, such as inflated self-esteem or grandiosity, a decreased need for sleep, pressured speech, flight of ideas, distractibility, increased involvement in goal-directed activities or psychomotor agitation, and excessive involvement in pleasurable and high-risk activities. from    

People with bipolar 2 have “hypomania” (aka “little” mania) with the elevated mood, grandiosity, pressured speech, flight of ideas, and many of the manic symptoms, but only lasting a few days (4-7) and  is “not severe enough to cause marked impairment in social or occupational functioning or to require hospitalization.”

Except that for me, it can cause problems. I’m too impulsive at work, or I can’t stop saying what I really think, which can get me into trouble with friends and bosses.

As I’m beginning to write this, on October 5 at about 1:30 a.m., I’m hypomanic. I’m doing all kinds of making plans and organizing. I downloaded multiple “blogging plan” pages and set up a binder. I bought new binders and other office supplies (that I WANT but don’t need and should be spending my money elsewhere). I’ve been reading blogs that have tips on making better blogs. Like, I swear, I read over 40 entries at Problogger tonight alone. I wrote posts for two of my other blogs, after almost a month of not writing at all.

It’s now the 5th at 6:30 a.m. I slept for about 4 hours and now I’m wide awake. I’ve opened about 15 tabs on Chrome looking for inspiration to start jotting down notes for my blogs, while watching a show on Hulu.

It’s really hard to hold onto a job when this happens. On the one hand, I’m more productive than ever, but on the other, I can’t concentrate on one thing for more than a couple of minutes. While I’m writing this, I’m thinking about the knitting I want to do, writing patterns, how to make my math blog better, how to get more money coming in, helping my daughter with a Greek costume for homecoming spirit week, and how the heck we’re going to finish making this dress she wants to make by tomorrow night (homecoming dance) and a few other things that keep escaping before I can get them written down.

While this state is much preferable to a state where I’m so depressed I can’t do ANYTHING for weeks or months at a time, it feels like I try to live my life in the brief few days of these hypomanic episodes, because I spend so much of my life depressed and unable to function.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 2.6 percent of Americans have bipolar disorder – that’s about 5.7 million adults.

There’s a lot of us out there, and many are functioning well in society. You may know someone with this problem, but not even know it.

Because there is still a strong stigma about mental disorders, the person you know may never tell you. Like people with unipolar depression, they suffer in silence. But as we do more research on the brain with PET scans and the like and we begin to figure out how brain chemicals work, it becomes clear that there is a physical component to this and other “mental illnesses”.

For me, one of the things that is important about Mental Illness Awareness is about accepting that there should be no difference in how we treat “mental” illnesses and how we treat “physical” ones.

Do you know someone with a mental illness? Do YOU have a mental illness? How does it affect your/their ability to hold a job? To maintain relationships? To “have a life”?

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