Juliana is a 21-year-old single woman. Over the past several years she had been treated by a psychologist for depression, but for the past few months she had been feeling a lot better. Juliana had landed a good job in a law office and found a steady boyfriend. She told her friends and parents that she had been feeling particularly good—her energy level was high and she was confident in herself a nd her life.
One day Juliana was feeling so good that she impulsively quit her new job and left town with her boyfriend on a road trip. But the trip didn’t turn out well because Juliana became impulsive, impatient, and easily angered. Her euphoria continued, and in one of the towns that they visited she left her boyfriend and went to a party with some strangers that she had met. She danced into the early morning and ended up having sex with several of the men.
Eventually Juliana returned home to ask for money, but when her parents found out about her recent behavior, and when she acted aggressively and abusively to them when they confronted her a bout it, they referred her to a social worker. Juliana was hospitalized, where she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
While dysthymia a nd major depressive disorder are characterized by overwhelming negative moods, bipolar disorder is a psychological disorder characterized by swings in mood from overly “high”to sad and hopeless, and back again, with periods of near-normal mood in between. Bipolar disorder is diagnosed in cases such as Juliana’s, where experiences with depression are followed by a more normal period and then a period of mania or euphoria in which the person feels particularly awake, alive, excited, and involved in everyday activities but is also impulsive, agitated, and distracted. Without treatment, it is likely that Juliana would cycle back into depression and then eventually into mania again, with the likelihood that she would harm herself or others in the process.
Bipolar disorder is an often chronic and lifelong condition that may begin in childhood. Although the normal pattern involves swings from high to low, in some cases the person may experience both highs and lows at the same time. Determining whether a person has bipolar disorder is difficult due to the frequent presence of comorbidity with both depression and anxiety disorders. Bipolar disorder is more likely to be diagnosed when it is initially observed at an early age, when the frequency of depressive episodes is high, and when there is a sudden onset of the symptoms (Bowden, 2001). 1