If you don’t know anything about bipolar disorder, you’re not alone. Here are some FAQs for starters.

What is bipolar disorder?

People with bipolar disorder experience powerful mood states called mania and depression. These occur in a successive fashion, or they can be mixed together. “Depression” is a lot like it is in other contexts — sadness, tiredness, irritability, and in severe cases suicidality. “Mania” is an elevated mood, but it’s not necessarily happy or euphoric; for many people mania is intense anger or confusion. Also, sometimes people with bipolar disorder experience hallucinations or delusions.

Isn’t bipolar disorder when your mood changes really fast?

Sort of. Usually moods in bipolar disorder last 1-2 weeks or more. If moods cycle more quickly than this, it’s considered “rapid cycling” bipolar disorder. A mood episode lasting less than a few days is very rare — but a single “mood episode” can encompass more than one emotion. For example, in mania, moods may quickly change between elation, anger, confusion, or even paranoia/fear. Mood episodes can also be mixed, encompassing both manic and depressive symptoms at the same time, or quickly alternating between them.

What does a mixed episode feel like?

For me, mixed episodes combine the low physical energy of depression with the high mental energy of mania. The conflict between them is excruciating, leading to intense restlessness and agitation. I often feel suicidal, and mixed episodes are the most dangerous time for me.

How do you treat bipolar disorder?

Usually bipolar disorder is treated with medication. If someone has severe bipolar disorder, their doctor will always recommend medication, because research has not shown therapy to be effective in stopping the cycle of severe bipolar disorder. Some medications commonly used are lithium, anticonvulsant mood stabilizers (drugs used for epilepsy), and antipsychotics (usually second-generation or atypicals). Other medical treatments may be used if medication isn’t enough; an example of this is electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

FAQs about me

What is your research about?

My research looks at quantitative models to explain patterns of affect (emotions/mood) and cognition in the contexts of conditions I’ve experienced (so far, autism and bipolar disorder are my main focuses). In my first study, I found that higher levels of repetitive cognition (“sticky thinking”) seen in autism were associated with more depression symptoms, just as one would expect to find with rumination (which is a specific type of negative repetitive thinking) — even though the sticky thinking we saw in people with more autistic traits was not necessarily negative.

In my sample, the higher levels of sticky thinking explained higher levels of depression seen in people with more autistic traits. I concluded that future studies should examine the role of sticky thinking in depression when it affects autistic people — high levels of sticky thinking may predispose autistic people to develop depression, and/or an increase in sticky thinking may be a sign of depression in autistic people.

My current research attempts to predict mood in bipolar disorder using an app called Shiny Mood App.