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August 13th, 2012
04:18 PM ET

What is bipolar II disorder?

Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. made headlines last month when he was said to be undergoing treatment for a mood disorder. Now, doctors have specified his condition: Bipolar II disorder.

This mental illness "is a treatable condition that affects parts of the brain controlling emotion, thought and drive and is most likely caused by a complex set of genetic and environmental factors," the Mayo Clinic said in a statement Monday.

Actress Catherine Zeta-Jones also has been treated for bipolar II.

This is a less severe condition than bipolar I, according to the Mayo Clinic. Bipolar II includes periods of depression alternated with hypomania, a mild form of mania that may include elevated mood and irritability. The depression periods usually last longer, the Mayo Clinic said.

In bipolar I, on the other hand, manic episodes can be "severe and dangerous," according to the Mayo Clinic. Some people experience psychosis, which encompasses delusions and hallucinations.

Bipolar disorder is not just one disease

Bipolar episodes can be affected by seasonal changes, CNNHealth mental health expert Dr. Charles Raison wrote in a column last year. People with unipolar depression tend to be less sensitive to changes in time, such as the lengths of day and night.

People with both kinds of depression may find relief in similar forms of psychotherapy, although the drug-based treatments for these disorders are different, Raison wrote in a column last month.

Bipolar patients often don't respond well to antidepressants, and do better on mood stabilizing drugs or medications that reduce psychotic symptoms, Raison wrote. The drugs lithium and valproic acid are examples of mood stabilizers. Antipsychotics or anti-anxiety medications may also be helpful, depending on the patient.

Suicidal thoughts can be a feature of bipolar disorder. Hospitalization may be necessary in these cases, or if the patient is psychotic or behaving dangerously. Getting treatment at a hospital for a serious episode may be helpful, also. Some patients may also need substance abuse treatment.

If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.


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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.