What is Bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder used to be called manic depression. It affects how you feel and can make your mood change dramatically.
Your mood can change between an extreme high (mania) and an extreme low (depression). You may feel well between these times.
When your mood changes, you might see changes in your energy levels or how you act. Symptoms of bipolar disorder can be severe.
They can affect areas of your life, such as work, school and relationships.
You usually develop bipolar disorder before you are thirty years old, but it can also happen later in life. You can have symptoms of bipolar disorder for a while before a doctor diagnoses you.
A doctor might say you have something else such as depression before you get a bipolar disorder diagnosis.
What are the symptoms of bipolar disorder and how it is diagnosed?
You can only be diagnosed by a psychiatrist who will do a full psychiatric assessment. A doctor will assess you, to see if you have symptoms of bipolar, which are described below.
You would need to have two or more times when you experience these symptoms to get a diagnosis.
Symptoms of mania can include:
- feeling happy or positive even if things are not going well for you,
- feeling more active, energetic or restless,
- being more irritable than normal,
- feeling much better about yourself than usual,
- talking very quickly, jumping from one idea to another, racing thoughts,
- being easily distracted and struggling to focus on one topic,
- not needing much sleep,
- thinking you can do much more than you actually can,
- making bad decisions,
- doing things you normally wouldn’t which can cause problems, such as going on spending sprees, being sexually promiscuous, using drugs or alcohol, gambling or making unwise business decisions,
- being much more social than usual, and
- being argumentative, pushy or aggressive.
The symptoms of depression can include:
- low mood,
- having less energy, feeling tired or “slowed down”,
- feeling hopeless or negative,
- feeling guilty, worthless or helpless,
- being less interested in things you normally like doing or enjoying them less,
- difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions,
- feeling restless or irritable,
- sleeping too much or not being able to sleep,
- feeling more or less hungry than usual and/or losing or gaining weight, when you do not mean to, and
- thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts.
Sometimes you can have psychotic symptoms during a severe episodes of mania or depression. Symptoms of psychosis can be:
- hallucinations – hearing, seeing, or feeling things that are not there,
- delusions – believing things that are not true and that other people find unusual.
Psychotic symptoms in bipolar disorder can reflect your mood. For example, if you are in a manic episode you may believe that you have special powers, or are on a special mission.
If you are in a depressive episode, you may feel extremely guilty about something you think you have done. You may feel that you are worse than anybody else or feel that you don’t exist.
Hypomania is similar to mania but is less severe. You can get the same sort of symptoms, but they are not as intense or as strong. Treatment for hypomania is similar to the treatment for mania.
What causes bipolar disorder?
The cause of bipolar disorder is not completely clear. It seems that a combination of different things can increase your chances of developing bipolar disorder.
If someone in your immediate family (parents, brother or sister) has bipolar disorder, you are five to ten times more likely to develop bipolar disorder than someone who has no family history.
Researchers have not found any exact genes that cause bipolar disorder. Different genes have been linked to the development of bipolar disorder.
If you have bipolar disorder, you may have uneven levels of particular brain chemicals. Different chemicals affect your mood and behaviour and could make you develop mania or depression.
Environmental and social factors
Life events can trigger symptoms of bipolar disorder. Stressful or distressing events, such as childhood abuse, can increase your chances of developing depressive episodes. Too much stress can trigger symptoms of bipolar disorder.
Some key steps to consider if you or a loved one have bipolar disorder include:
1. Find a mental health professional you trust.
A person diagnosed with bipolar disorder needs to establish a relationship with a trusted mental health professional where an open and honest exchange can take place.
2. Take medication as prescribed.
This is first and foremost the most important step in taking control of bipolar disorder.
It is the one element that needs to be strictly adhered to. In order for medication to work effectively it must be taken consistently and for the long term.
It may be tempting to stop taking medication as symptoms lessen and one starts feeling better. However, this could have devastating consequences.
3. Reduce Stress.
Mental health professionals typically believe that increased stress can trigger an episode of manic depression.
Finding time to relax, sharing extra responsibilities, or simply talking to someone during a stressful event may help to bring on an increased feeling of calmness.
4. Do not become isolated.
Do not try to “handle” bipolar disorder alone. Seeking out the comfort and understanding of family and friends is central to a person’s treatment.
It can be very helpful to join a bipolar disorder support group because the people there understand the feelings and difficulties of living with the illness.
They can lend insight and encouragement to a person confronting a diagnosis.
5. Maintain a healthy lifestyle.
It is important to establish regular healthy routines such as exercising the same time everyday, going to bed at the same time each night and waking up at the same time each morning.
Maintain a healthy diet and get plenty of sleep, because erratic sleep patterns can increase the symptoms of bipolar disorder. Do not use caffeine or recreational drugs.
6. Become an expert on bipolar disorder.
Become involved in understanding the symptoms and treatment of bipolar disorder and the effects it can have on family and friends.
Consult a qualified mental health professional with questions and concerns. Read books about the illness or listen to lectures by experts.
Learn as much about bipolar disorder as possible because knowledge is a powerful tool in taking out the mystery of the illness.
7. Enhance life with enjoyable things.
Make it a priority to engage in things that bring about feelings of joy, happiness, and accomplishment.
Hobbies or activities that enhance a sense of peace or relaxation serve one well in dealing with the confusion of bipolar disorder.
A diagnosis of bipolar disorder does not have to mean the end of one’s world; rather it can be considered a new beginning.
One that, at last, provides an explanation and ultimate relief from some of the unexplained and destructive behaviors a person might exhibit, freeing them to live rich and fulfilling lives.
NOTE: This article is for information purposes only. For medical advice seek a doctor or gp immediately.