Could you have bipolar disorder?

Homeland Game On
Claire Danes grapples with bipolar disorder on “Homeland.”
Credit: Kent Smith/Showtime

The question:

I love “Homeland” and sometimes really identify with how the main character feels. Does that mean I could be bipolar?

I’ve only seen a couple of episodes of “Homeland,” so I can’t speak to the heroine’s behavior. But simply identifying with the character’s feelings does not a diagnosis maketh. In my humble opinion, Hollywood historically glamorizes or does a mediocre job at portraying mental illness (with the exception of addiction), and is therefore a poor reference point for self-diagnosis. Even the Oscar-nominated “Silver Linings Playbook,” centered around the mercurial world of a person suffering from bipolar disorder, turned Bradley Cooper’s illness into a loveable personality quirk.

Consequently, it’s important to distinguish between normal ups and downs, and the debilitating highs and lows of bipolar disorder. Many mentally healthy people have mood swings. In a culture where happiness is considered a birthright, people are often quick to jump to the conclusion that something is wrong with them when they are not feeling 100 percent content at all times. Grief and sadness are a normal response to loss and disappointment. Excitement and inspiration are appropriate responses to pleasurable and creative activities.

Formerly known as manic depression, bipolar disorder is a potentially debilitating chemical imbalance in the brain characterized by periods of extreme ups and downs, and risky behaviors. According to the National Institute of Health, it affects approximately 5.7 million adult Americans, or about 2.6 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older every year. Frequently misdiagnosed, as many as 20 percent of people complaining of depression to their doctor actually have bipolar disorder.

During the manic stage of the disorder, people experience what many describe as an intoxicating high and sense of euphoria. This high may give them the sense of invincibility that impairs their judgment, leading them to reckless behavior like binging on food or substances, spending sprees and sexual promiscuity. They may also display pronounced agitation or irritation, inflated self esteem, decreased need for sleep, hyperactivity, racing thoughts and poor temper control. Some even experience psychotic episodes and extreme paranoia. A person suffering from mania may seem barely recognizable to their loved ones, altering the way they talk or dress.

Some individuals experience a milder form of mania known as hypomania. A departure from their baseline mood, they may suddenly appear unusually talkative, energetic, creative, confident, assertive or creative, working on projects for days without sleep, or engaging in promiscuous behavior. Unlike full-blown mania, those with hypomania tend to function with less impairment in their work and personal lives, and are often mistaken for workaholics.

Both manic and hypomanic types, however, experience bouts of depression where they feel deep sadness, hopelessness and feelings of worthlessness. They may sleep too much, or have trouble sleeping, eat too much or lose their appetite. They usually lose interest in socializing, sex or activities that once seemed pleasurable. Consequently, people with bipolar disorder are at increased risk for suicide. At least 25 percent to 50 percent of patients with bipolar disorder also attempt suicide at least once.

Because of the strong correlation between creativity and manic depression, people with bipolar disorder tend to be over-represented in the arts. Some famous individuals associated with this diagnosis include Vincent Van Gogh, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Wolf, Sinead O’Conner, Ted Turner, Britney Spears, Catherine Zeta Jones, Robert Downey Jr., Russell Brand, Linda Hamilton and Carrie Fisher.

If you suspect that you might be bipolar, the best thing to do would be to consult a psychiatrist. For more information, consult the National Alliance on Mental HealthNational Institute of Health or the Mayo Clinic — all offer excellent resources on mental illness.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Gunther from 'Friends' talks Central Perk

We spoke with Gunther (James Michael Tyler) at the preview for new pop-up Central Perk, based on the cafe in "Friends."

Local

Central Perk opens in SoHo

Central Perk, of "Friends" fame, is giving out free coffee in SoHo through Oct. 18.

National

Beer sponsor Anheuser-Busch reproaches NFL over domestic abuse

Anheuser-Busch chastised the NFL for its handling of domestic violence cases, making it the first major advertiser to put pressure on the league.

Local

Sen. Krueger dishes on prospect of legal marijuana…

New Yorkers may see the legalization of recreational marijuana use as early as 2015 if State Senator Liz Krueger (D) gets her way. The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act will…

Music

FREEMAN makes Freeman a free man from Ween

For nearly 30 years, Aaron Freeman was known endearingly to his listeners as Gene Ween. But with "FREEMAN," he makes it clear that he's gone somewhere else.

Television

'Outlander' recap: Season 1, Episode 6: 'The Garrison…

Whipping, punching, kicking and a marriage contract. "Outlander" is not for the faint of heart this week with "The Garrison Commander."

The Word

The Word: Hey girl, it's a girl for…

It's a girl for Ryan Gosling and Eva Mendes, who reportedly welcomed a daughter last Friday, according to Us Weekly. The super-private couple managed to…

Television

TV watch list, Tuesday, Sept. 16: 'New Girl,'…

Check out the season premiere of "New Girl," as Jess competes with Jessica Biel for a guy's attentions.

MLB

5 top contenders for NL Rookie of the…

The outing rekindled award talk for deGrom, who appears to hold the top spot for NL Rookie of the Year honors. Metro breaks down a few other contenders.

College

College football Top 25 poll (AP rankings)

College football Top 25 poll (AP rankings)

NFL

Tom Coughlin says Giants 'beat themselves' against Cardinals

Head coach Tom Coughlin, who had a day to cool off and reflect, still sounded like he had a gnawing feeling in his gut.

NFL

Marty Mornhinweg accepts blame for Jets timeout fiasco

Jets fans looking for a scapegoat for Sunday’s timeout fiasco found a willing party on Monday: Marty Mornhinweg.

Style

Rachel Zoe: New York Fashion Week Spring 15

Rachel Zoe goes 'Glam bohemia' for Spring.

Food

Where to find SweeTango apples

Introduced in 2009, SweeTango — a hybrid of Honeycrisp and Zestar — is a sweet apple with plenty of crunch.

Style

London Fashion Week recap

London Fashion week gets in on the action with politics, heritage and summertime living.

Food

Padma Lakshmi's recipe for green mango curry

Padma Lakshmi shares her recipe for green mango curry in UNICEF's new book, "UNICHEF."