Bipolar Disorder, known as manic-depressive illness in the past, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, sleep, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. Symptoms are more severe than the normal ups and downs that everyone goes through from time to time. Bipolar disorder often develops in a person’s late teens or early adult years, but some people can have their first symptoms during childhood.
People with bipolar disorder experience unusually intense emotional states that occur in distinct periods called “mood episodes.” An overly joyful or overexcited state is called a manic episode, and an extremely sad or hopeless state is called a depressive episode.
People with bipolar disorder may also be explosive and irritable during a mood episode. Extreme changes in energy, activity, sleep, and behavior go along with these changes in mood. Symptoms of a manic episode include behavioral changes such as talking very fast, jumping from one idea to the next, having rapid thoughts enter your mind, being easily distracted, being restless, sleeping little, behaving impulsively and engaging in high risk behaviors.
Symptoms of depressive episodes include behavioral changes such as feeling tired or slowed down, having problems concentrating, remembering and making decisions, feeling sad, being restless or irritable, changes in eating, sleeping or other habits, thinking of death or suicide or attempting suicide. (National Institute of Mental Health)
Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often exhibit behaviors including hyperactivity, disturbed sleep, impulsivity, agitation, and irritability. Due to the social and communication deficits that go along with ASD, many individuals are not able to effectively verbalize what they are feeling. This, along with the frequent overlapping symptoms in ASD and bipolar disorder, makes it difficult to interpret whether symptoms are related to the ASD or also to a co-existing mood disorder.
If an individual with ASD or their caretaker is concerned that they may also have bipolar disorder, they should seek the opinion of a psychiatrist with expertise in ASD to help clarify diagnosis and develop an appropriate treatment plan, including careful medication management.