Mariah Carey recently revealed her battle with bipolar II disorder in an exclusive interview with PEOPLE Magazine. Carey was in denial about her disorder when she first received her diagnosis back in 2001, but she’s managing her bipolar disorder with therapy and appropriate medication. She hopes to get rid of the stigma surrounding mental health issues by speaking and spreading awareness about her disorder.

So what exactly IS bipolar II disorder and what do you need to know about it? Here's the lowdown:

What Is Bipolar II?

Bipolar II, which is pronounced "bipolar two" is a form of mental illness. Bipolar II is similar to bipolar I in terms of moods cycling between high and low, however, when it comes to bipolar II, the "up" moods are less intense. A person who deals with bipolar II will have at least one hypomanic episode in their life. Those with the disorder often suffer from episodes of severe depression. In between hypomanic episodes and depression, many live regular lives.

How Is Bipolar II Different Than Bipolar I?

Bipolar I is a more severe case of the disorder. A person with bipolar I disorder can have manic episodes that last for at least a week. Manic episodes can be very disruptive, causing pressured thoughts, rapid speech and little to no sleep for days at a time.

What Is Hypomania?

The less intense "up" moods tied to bipolar II are called hypomania. Hypomania is a less severe form of mania, which can cause your mood and energy to be up but not out of control. However, for someone with bipolar disorder, hypomania can evolve into mania. The issue for someone with bipolar disorder is that those less intense moods can evolve into full-blown mania. The pattern is also unpredictable so it's hard to tell whether you'll deal with hypomania or serious depression next. Hypomania does boost creativity and productivity, which can seem like a good thing, but it can lead those with the disorder to believe they’re only creative because of their hypomania. This can also bring out a fear of seeking treatment.

Who Is At Risk?

Anyone can develop bipolar II disorder and about 2.5% of the U.S. population suffers from some form of bipolar disorder today. That’s nearly 6 million people. Those with bipolar disorder usually develop it before the age of 50 and those with an immediate family member who has it may be at higher risk of developing it.

What Are the Symptoms?

During a hypomanic episode, an "up" mood can come in forms of a euphoric feeling, such feeling high, or as irritability. Some symptoms that can occur during a hypomanic episode include:

  • Having exaggerated self confidence
  • Rapid, uninterruptable, and loud speech
  • Increased energy, hyperactivity
  • Decreased need for sleep without feeling tired

Those experiencing hypomanic episodes are generally pleasant to be around seeing as they take intense interest in other people and activities. Their positive moods can also be very contagious. While this sounds positive, hypomania can lead to unhealthy and unstable behavior, such as frivolous spending and promiscuous sex.  

How Is Bipolar II Treated?

It’s a lifelong disorder so the key to treat bipolar disorder is medication and therapy. Some forms of medication include mood stabilizers such as Lithium and Tegnetol, as well as antidepressants such as Seroquel and Seroquel RX. Those who suffer from bipolar disorder can sometimes battle with alcoholism and eating disorders, so it is important to be mindful and keep a healthy balance in your life that doesn’t involve alcohol or drugs.

Famous People With Bipolar Disorder:

Jimi Hendrix, Mel Gibson, Demi Lovato, Russell Brand, Kurt Cobain, and even Frank Sinatra suffer(ed) from bipolar disorder.  

Spreading the word changes the stigma. You can donate to bipolar disorder research through the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation and you can learn more about bipolar disorder from the National Institute of Mental Health. Some other helpful sites are NAMI, Mental Health America, and Medline Plus.

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