Bipolar disorder is an illness that causes people to have episodes of depression and mania. It usually develops in the late teens or early adulthood. As bipolar disorder can be very severe it is important to notify a doctor if you notice any symptoms of the disease in yourself, friends, or family.

A helpful way to remember the symptoms of depression is “SIG E CAPS” as doctors used to prescribe (or SIGn) Energy CAPsules for depressed patients.

  • S (sleep changes- increased sleep during the day or decreased at night)
  • I (Interest- loss of interest in activities that used to bring joy)
  • G (guilt- a feeling of worthlessness)
  • E (energy- loss of energy)
  • C (concentration- difficulty concentrating)
  • A (appetite- decreased appetite and weight loss)
  • P (psychomotor- this simply means that the person is either thinking or moving slowly)
  • S (suicide- thoughts of death)

Mania, on the other hand, causes people to feel overly happy or very irritable. It is common for manic individuals to stay up all night working on a project they believe will save the world.

The lifetime prevalence of bipolar disorder is around 3% and Blacks are at the same risk as the general population. While the cause of bipolar disorder is unknown, it tends to run in families. That does not mean, however, that everybody in the family will get the illness.

While there is no cure, the disease can be successfully treated with a combination of therapy and medications such as mood stabilizers (Lithium), atypical antipsychotics (such as Zyprexa and Abilify), and antidepressants (such as Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, and Wellbutrin). Although Blacks show more improvement than whites using Lithium, they are less likely to use medication to treat their bipolar disorder.This is potentially because Blacks with bipolar disorder are more frequently misdiagnosed as schizophrenic  than other racial groups. In addition, according to Dr. William Lawson, a renown psychiatrist at Howard University Hospital, “African Americans are much less likely to actually report symptoms to their doctors, and when they do, they are “more likely to use culturally-specific terms like ‘falling out’ or ‘having too much tension,’” instead of saying they are sad or unhappy.”                                                                        

It is important to remember that bipolar disorder is not just hard on the person with the disease, but also their loved ones. Family and friends can turn to support groups, such as the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, as well as church communities for help. It can also be helpful to see other highly successful Black people with bipolar disorder, such as Ruth White, PhD, MPH, MSW at the University of Southern California. Please click here (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/new-harbinger-publications-inc/so-what-if-im-crazy_b_921699.html) for an article she wrote about her experience.

Acclaimed Psychiatrist Speaks Out on Bipolar Disorder in the African American Community. (2008).   Retrieved August 18, 2015, from dbsalliance.org/site/PageServer?pagename=media_03032008

Gonzalez Arnold, J., Salcedo, S., Ketter, T. A., Calabrese, J. R., Rabideau, D. J., Nierenberg, A. A., Bowden, C. L. (2015). An exploratory study of responses to low-dose lithium in African Americans and Hispanics. J Affect Disord, 178, 224-228. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2015.02.035

Johnson, K. R., & Johnson, S. L. (2014). Inadequate treatment of black Americans with bipolar disorder. Psychiatr Serv, 65(2), 255-258. doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.201200590

Schmitt, A., Malchow, B., Hasan, A., & Falkai, P. (2014). The impact of environmental factors in severe psychiatric disorders. Front Neurosci, 8, 19. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2014.00019

Snowden, L. R. (2001). Barriers to effective mental health services for African Americans. Ment Health Serv Res, 3(4), 181-187.