Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder is a severe mental illness in which periods of deep depression alternate with periods of overactive, excited behaviour, or mania and is also referred to as manic depression.

Bipolar Disorder

Source: Adapted from Family Medical Adviser, Reader’s Digest

What is bipolar disorder?

A person suffering from bipolar disorder may have gaps in between the highs and lows, or these extreme states may come directly after one another. Some people have frequent episodes of bipolar disorder, whereas others may have only one or two in their life, and feel fine the rest of the time. When a person has four or more bipolar episodes a year it is sometimes called rapid cycling.

The symptoms of mania can include:

  • Feeling very happy or sometimes very angry;
  • Having lots of energy – being very active and talkative;
  • Feeling restless and irritable;
  • Having racing thoughts;
  • Having strange or unfounded thoughts or beliefs, called delusions;
  • Hearing voices or seeing things that are not there (hallucinations);
  • Being unable to sleep much.

The symptoms of depression can include:

  • Feeling very low and negative;
  • Being unwilling to do things that you have previously enjoyed;
  • Having difficulty in concentrating and remembering things;
  • Having little energy;
  • Feeling suicidal.

Who is at risk for bipolar disorder?

The illness usually appears during a person’s 20s or 30s, although some people develop it during their teens.

The cause of bipolar disorder is unknown, although scientists have found that people with the illness have different chemicals in their brain from people who have never had the condition. There are several possible causes:

  • Genetics – a person has a higher risk of developing manic depression if a close relative has it;
  • Stressful life events or physical illness can be triggers for the illness;
  • Family background – problems in early life increase a person’s risk.

If you have bipolar disorder, you will have times when you are manic, times when you are depressed, and times when you are neither. Although the highs can be enjoyable (and people often say they are very creative during mania), they can also be very disruptive. You may spend large amounts of money and build up debts, or make big changes or decisions that you later regret.

Treatment for bipolar disorder

Medication is usually given to control the symptoms and to help people to live with bipolar disorder.

Medications for bipolar disorder

Lithium is the most common treatment; it prevents mood swings for about 60 per cent of people. Carbamazapine is given when lithium does not work. Antipsychotics are given for severe symptoms of mania, or antidepressants for underlying depression. The medication may take several months to work. Talking therapies such as counselling or cognitive behaviour therapy can give support and help in living with bipolar disorder.

A person who has particularly severe symptoms or is suicidal may need a short stay in hospital.

Lifestyle Changes

  • Try to recognize and avoid stressful events or other triggers for the illness.
  • Notice early signs that you are becoming unwell, and seek help or support.
  • Talk to someone about your feelings.
  • Look after yourself physically – eat well and exercise regularly.
  • Join a support group or self-help group.

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