Multiple exposure image of a woman in radically different moods.

Community forum to bring more understanding.

The silhouette of a head pointing left is made up of black and blue hands. Above the head reads "spotlight on," and in the head reads "teen mental health."
Shining the Light: Spotlight on Teen Mental Health logo

For people with bipolar disorder, the world can alternate between being a dark, depressed place, and one of infinite possibilities and manic energy. The roller coaster of moods seems to cascade out of control, unless individuals get help from trained mental health specialists and find a medication that works for them. Even with help available, far too many people with bipolar disorder end their own lives.

People who have bipolar disorder experience “highs” (periods of mania) and “lows” (periods of depression). Researchers such as Melvin McInnis, M.D., director of the Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Program at the University of Michigan Depression Center, want to understand why bipolar disorder happens, how to treat it more effectively, and how to help patients and their families get the most out of modern knowledge about the condition once known as manic depression.

Dr. Melvin McInnis
Dr. Melvin McInnis

“There are many routes to this disease and many routes through it,” McInnis says. “We have found there are many biological mechanisms that drive the disease and many interactive external influences on it. All of these elements combine to affect the disease as patients experience it.”

The Prechter program’s research suggests that bipolar disorder has many causes. Everyone’s experience with bipolar disorder is unique. But all these experiences include features that fall into the following seven classes of observable characteristics:

  • Disease: Changes in how certain chemicals function in the brain may affect bipolar disorder.
  • Neurocognitive: Changes in thinking, reasoning and emotion processing.
  • Temperament and personality: People with bipolar disorder are frequently more reactive and “temperamental” compared to the average person.
  • Motivated behaviors: People with bipolar disorder frequently experience substance use disorders and other behavioral patterns.
  • Life story: Trauma and abuse in childhood, unfortunate life experiences and other challenges contribute to bipolar disorder in complex ways.
  • Sleep and circadian patterns: Patterns of sleep and circadian rhythms are often different among bipolar patients, causing disruptions in daily patterns and routines.
  • Outcomes and course of illness: Measures of how someone’s symptoms change over time and respond to treatment.

New Hope

We do not know exactly what causes bipolar disorder. Research through the Prechter program is creating new hope for those who suffer from this devastating illness.

“For as long as I can remember, the majority of my days were full of hopelessness and dread. I don’t ever remember being happy. The prospect of doing my homework or of going to a birthday completely overwhelmed me. I remember obsessing about what it would be like to cease to exist and to do so in a way that wouldn’t hurt anyone else,” says Mitzi B., one of the program’s dedicated research participants.

“Since my diagnosis I have been on a mood stabilizer and an anti-psychotic. My meds are an important part of my treatment because they raise the bottom of the pool for me, to keep me from drowning. Then I use my coping skills to really thrive.”

The Prechter program’s research focuses on personalizing treatment of bipolar disorder to prevent recurrences and to enable those living with bipolar to lead healthy and productive lives.

“Bipolar disorder has a lot to teach humankind about other illnesses because it covers the breadths of human mood, emotion and behavior like no other condition,” McInnis says. “What we can learn in bipolar about all these factors will be directly applicable to monitoring other complex diseases and personalizing the approach to managing them.”

Kat Bergman is marketing and communications manager at the Prechter Bipolar Research Program at U-M in Ann Arbor.

Kadima Collaborates With Prechter Program To Host Community Forum

The Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Program, in collaboration with Southfield-based Kadima, will host “Bright Nights Community Forum: Understanding Bipolar Disorder” from 7-9 p.m. Wednesday, April 25, at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield.

Melvin McInnis, M.D., research director for the Prechter program, will present and join a panel of experts to answer audience questions. Panelists are Sue O’Shea, Ph.D., and David Marshall, Ph.D., from the Prechter program; Jean Nemenzik, LMSW, clinical director for Kadima; Mike Buatti from NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Michigan & NAMI Metro; and Nicole Lawson, clinical administrator, Oakland Community Health Network.

Kadima provides comprehensive residential, therapeutic and social services to all people with mental health needs. Additionally, several organizations focusing on mental health services will have information tables at this event.

This event is free and open to the public, but pre-registration is required. Go to to register.

Previous articleBorn In 1942
Next articleLuminous Constructs