The Truth about Bipolar
Demi Lavarto, Russell Brand, and Catherine Zeta Jones are some of the celebrities who have shared their experiences of bipolar disorder. Such open communication should empower others to speak about their experiences! Sadly, mental health still remains a stigma.
Mental health problems can be difficult for anyone to handle but it can be made worse by having to deal with discrimination from others. The unfortunate truth is, millions of people suffer from bipolar disorder. This article aims to give a brief outline about bipolar disorder.
What is bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder is also referred to as mood disorder. The term “bipolar” – as the name sounds is a combination of words; “bi” meaning two and “polar” standing for opposite or extreme sides.
Bipolar disorder causes changes to one’s mood usually from two extreme ends of high and low moods. Individuals suffer from intense mood changes that affect how they feel and act. When the mood switches to extremely high, it is called mania while extremely low is called depression. The depression phase of bipolar disorder is characterized by the same symptoms seen in depressive disorders.
While everyone experiences ups and downs, the shifts that happen in bipolar disorder can have a severe impact on a person’s life.
What are the warning signs?
Signs of mania are:
• Increased energy
• Impulsive behaviour
Signs of depression are:
• Decreased level of energy
• Feelings of worthlessness
• Feelings of hopelessness
• Difficulty in concentrating on an activity
• Loss of interest in activities
• Low self-esteem and suicidal thoughts
In some cases, a person’s mood may shift from mania to hypomania, which is lesser than mania. In such a case, a person may feel moderately euphoric, full of energy and/or unusually irritable.
It is important to note that mania is more severe than hypomania and can cause more noticeable problems at work, school and in engagement in social activities, as well as relationship difficulties. Mania may also trigger a break from ‘reality’ (psychosis) and require hospitalisation at some point in time.
What are the different types of bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder may take different forms, depending on its severity and rate of occurrences. These types include:
1. Bipolar I: This occurs usually every day and could last for at least a week. It occurs with one or more manic episodes and one or more major depressive episodes. Bipolar I disorder is the most severe form, marked by extreme manic episodes.
2. Bipolar II: This is a milder form of bipolar I disorder, but with a separate diagnosis. Bipolar II is harder for people to see in themselves, thus it is important that friends or loved ones encourage someone with this type to seek help.
3. Cyclothymic disorder: This is a milder form of bipolar disorder. It has several hypomanic episodes with less severe episodes of depression. A person can often function normally without medication, but with great difficulty. There are instances that a person’s mood swings may develop into a diagnosis of bipolar II or I.
4. Not otherwise specified: This form of bipolar disorder does not follow any particular pattern and order. A person only has some bipolar symptoms, but not enough for a diagnosis.
What are the risk factors?
Men and woman stand equal chances of experiencing bipolar disorder. However, women are more likely to receive a diagnosis than men; though the reason for this still remains unclear.
Bipolar disorder can occur at any stage in life, however, it is usually evident in late adolescence or the teenage years and early adulthood of which is often considered as mood swings.
Although a specific genetic link to bipolar disorder has not been pin pointed, research shows that bipolar disorder tends to run in families.
Can someone have bipolar disorder and other problems?
Symptoms of bipolar disorder can persist for a long time before an appropriate diagnosis is made. Often a misdiagnosis of depression is given. This is because people are more likely to report when they feel down than in the times when they feel high. This is one reason why it may take longer for an actual diagnosis of bipolar disorder to be given.
Bipolar disorder can occur concurrently with other health problems that would require treatment. Some of these conditions can worsen bipolar disorder symptoms or make treatment less successful. Examples of these conditions include:
• Anxiety disorders
• Eating disorders
• Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
• Alcohol or drug problems
• Physical health problems, such as heart disease, thyroid problems, headaches or obesity
How can someone with bipolar seek help?
Treatment of bipolar disorder is highly individualized and based on the types and severity of symptoms a person may be experiencing.
• Bipolar disorder can be treated with medications, psychotherapy, or a combination.
• Psychiatrist/doctors prescribe medication. It is important that an individual follows the treatment plan prescribed by their psychiatrist or doctor. It’s also important to note that the use of antidepressants for conditions of bipolar disorder may trigger more manic symptoms in some individuals while other individuals may respond poorly to it. Discussing any symptoms changes with a psychiatrist/doctor is paramount.
• Talk therapy or psychotherapy is known to be useful. Psychologists and other professionals use a range of therapeutic approaches, such as cognitive behavior therapy, family therapy and interpersonal therapies to help individuals develop useful strategies to manage their symptoms.
What lifestyle changes need to made to help manage symptoms of bipolar disorder?
1. Stop over drinking and/or taking drugs: The use of alcohol has a tendency to cause changes to one’s mood. During the manic phase, people often become impulsive and act aggressively. This can result in high-risk behaviours, such as repeated intoxication, extravagant spending, and risky sexual behaviour.
2. Seek healthy relationships: It is important a person surrounds themselves with people who are a positive influence. The focus should be centered on building healthy relationships with people.
3. Develop healthy habits: A healthy routine for sleeping, eating and physical activities can help to balance a person’s moods.
4. Monitoring mood: Recording daily moods, treatments, sleep, activities and feelings may help identify triggers.
5. A full evaluation of symptoms and emotional history is critical in determining a person’s treatment needs!
Living with bipolar disorder can be challenging. It can change the course of one’s life, but it doesn’t mean they can’t manage their symptoms. There are some long-term, successful strategies to staying well. Liaising with a health care professional/team in finding the right treatment to help maintain a balanced mood is crucial! Finding the right drug combination that works with the person’s body is imperative too!