The distinguishing characteristic of Bipolar Disorder, as compared to other mood disorders, is the presence of at least one manic episode. Additionally, it is presumed to be a chronic condition because the vast majority of individuals who have one manic episode have additional episodes in the future. The statistics suggest that four episodes in ten years is an average, without preventative treatment.
Bipolar disorder typically begins in adolescence or early adulthood and continues throughout life. It is often not recognized as a psychological problem, because it is episodic. Consequently, those who have it may suffer needlessly for years without treatment.
Effective treatment is available for bipolar disorder. Without treatment, marital breakups, job loss, alcohol and drug abuse, and suicide may result from the chronic, episodic mood swings. The most significant treatment issue is noncompliance with treatment. Most individuals with bipolar disorder do not perceive their manic episodes as needing treatment, and they resist entering treatment.
In fact, most people report feeling very good during the beginning of a manic episode, and don't want it to stop. This is a serious judgment problem. As the manic episode progresses, concentration becomes difficult, thinking becomes more grandiose, and problems develop. Unfortunately, the risk taking behavior usually results in significant painful consequences such as loss of a job or a relationship, running up excessive debts, or getting into legal difficulties.