Understanding bipolar disorder: A brief visual

Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night. Oil on can...
Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night. Oil on canvas, 73×92 cm, 28¾×36¼ in. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bipolar disorder I and II (one and two) is a complete disorder characterized by a variety of symptoms. People who suffer from bipolar disorder are either often misdiagnosed or diagnosed later in life. For sufferers, bipolar disorder is a loss of life, a loss of future success, and many moments of chaos. A client once described bipolar disorder as “a dark tunnel with periodic flashing lights.” There are times when everything seems okay, but other moments where life seems hopeless. Can you image living this way? Do you live this way?

Scientists are now trying to understand the mechanisms of the brain and how they operate when depressed or manic. While we still have yet to understand the cause of bipolar disorder and how it affects the brain, scientists believe genes and environment contribute to symptoms and changes in the brain.  Most recently, science is looking at how brain scans can help us understand mental disorders such as bipolar disorder. Scans help us determine how damaged brain tissue changes our chemistry. The following picture shows different brains and disorders and how they affect brain chemistry:

The above is a study using a brain imaging test known as SPECT (Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography) on the brains of children with bipolar disorder. The more red you see, the more the disorder affects the brain or that brain region. The “normal” brain is vastly different from the person suffering from bipolar disorder or any of the other disorders.

Likewise, the brain scan below shows a depressed and non-depressed brain. The less yellow you see, the more depressed the brain is. A brain like this is often like a city shut down, nothing gets through and all signals go haywire.

It is important to keep in mind that a family history of bipolar disorder increases the chance that other family members will get it as well. There is, of course, no guarantee that bipolar disorder will “spread” to other family members, but the chance of this happening is more likely than in families where bipolar disorder does not exist at all.

Bipolar disorder often affects the entire brain. For many people experiencing depression, the frontal lobes are affected (the purple area), which includes thinking, decision making, and impulsivity.

For a visual guide on bipolar disorder from WebMD, click here: Understanding Bipolar Disorder SlideShow.

Do you have questions about brain scans? Get them answered here with the National Institute of Health.

I wish you the best

Photo Source:

Photo #1: www.bipolar-lives.com

Photo #2: www.scienceclarified.com

Photo #3: uvahealth.com (©Nucleus Medical Media, Inc)

Note: the photo of the starry night was created by Vincent Van Gogh who suffered severely with bipolar disorder.