An estimated 2.3 million Americans have bipolar disorder, also called manic-depressive illness. A person with bipolar disorder can go from feeling very, very high (called mania) to feeling very, very low (depression). With proper treatment, people can control these mood swings and lead fulfilling lives. 

     While the rate of bipolar disorder is the same among African Americans as it is among other Americans, African Americans are less likely to receive a diagnosis or treatment for this illness. Most African Americans with bipolar disorder are going undiagnosed and untreated.


     Several factors have contributed to African Americans not receiving help for bipolar disorder:

     •A mistrust in health professionals, based in part on historically higher-than-average institutionalization of African Americans with mental illness; and on previous mistreatments.

     •Cultural barriers between many doctors and their patients.

     •Reliance on family and religious community, rather than mental health professionals. 

     •A tendency to talk about physical problems, rather than discuss mental symptoms, or to mask symptoms with substance abuse.

     •Socioeconomic factors which can limit access to medical and mental health care. 

     •Continued misunderstanding and stigma about mental illness.


     No one knows what causes bipolar disorder. But its causes may include:

     •Brain chemistry – There are chemical changes or imbalances.

     •Genetics – Close relatives of people with bipolar disorder are 10 to 20 times more likely to get depression or bipolar disorder than other people. 

     •Drug and alcohol abuse – More than half of the people diagnosed with bipolar disorder have histories of substance abuse. In others, alcohol or other drugs may be used as a form of self-medication. 

     •Stressful or disturbing events. 


     There is hope. People with bipolar disorder can be helped by treatment. Treatment can include:



     •Peer support

     •Complementary Care

     If you think that you or someone you know has bipolar disorder, only a mental health professional can tell if a person has bipolar disorder and properly treat it. Once in treatment, it is important that the person receive support and understanding of friends and family. Many people find strength and support through their spiritual affiliations.••

Signs of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder often starts in the teen years, but can emerge in later life. One of five people with bipolar disorders commits suicide. The signs of bipolar disorder include:


     •Excessive energy and rapid talking

     •Denial that anything is wrong

     •Extremely happy feelings 

     •Easily irritated

     •Needing little sleep

     •Unrealistic belief in one’s ability

     •Substance abuse

     •Aggressive behavior 



     •Poor appetite or eating too much 

     •Trouble sleeping 

     •Nervousness and worry 

     •Loss of interest in usual activities 

     •Feelings of lingering sadness

     •Irritability or restlessness 

     •Lack of energy 

     •Feelings of sadness, worthlessness or guilt 

     •Inability to concentrate 

     •Repeated thoughts of death or suicide 

     •Increased risk-taking behavior

     •Chronic pain or problems

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