Written by: Jenny Smith
Bipolar disorder used to be called manic depression and describes the condition where a person experiences extreme highs and lows of mood, energy and thought patterns. Whilst everyone goes up and down emotionally, a person who experiences bipolar will journey between much greater feelings of exuberance to despair and the extremes can last for weeks or months rather than a few hours or a day. The changes in mood swings can be so strong that they can interfere with a persons ability to function in day to day life, sometimes during a high phase a person will make impulsive decisions in relation to money or sex and during a low phase they can often find it impossible to get out of bed and spiral down with depression and hopelessness.
Is there a treatment for Bipolar disorder?
It is a treatable condition and people who have the diagnosis tend to have ‘episodes’ of extreme behaviour which come on gradually. If the build up period can be recognised and responded to, a full blown episode can be avoided. The first signs of bipolar often show themselves in teenage years or early adulthood. Because the signs are sometimes subtle and confusing they can be missed and overtime the condition can worsen if it’s not treated.
Two people with this condition may display it in very different ways because the symptoms vary in patterns, frequency and severity. Within the main diagnoses of Bipolar Disorder there are four sub-categories, mania, hypomania, depression, and mixed episodes. Combinations of these lead to one of three diagnoses ‚Äď Bipolar 1 disorder, Bipolar 2 disorder and Cyclothymia.
What are the symptoms?
Within the manic phase of bipolar, people experience a heightened sense of creativity, inspiration, can come across as being unusually optimistic or high and can express what sound like grandiose opinions about themselves and their capabilities. Sleeping can reduce to a very short amount of time and the person can talk so rapidly that it can be hard for another person to keep up. In severe cases the person can hear and see things that are not visible or audible to others.
The depressive phase of bipolar used to be described as being similar to regular depression but recently research is suggesting that there are significant differences particularly with regard to treatments. Antidepressants have not been found to be helpful in the case of bipolar and at times can make things worse. Symptoms of the depression stage include irritability, extreme weight gain, restlessness and unpredictable mood swings.
A mixed episode of bipolar can leave a person more vulnerable to extreme feelings including suicide.
The three most important points about treatment are that firstly it often needs to be long-term, this is because it is defined as a chronic and relapsing disorder which is better controlled by continuing treatment even when you are feeling better. Secondly, a treatment plan should contain more than just medication, a comprehensive approach would include a mix of medication, therapy, lifestyle changes and social support. And thirdly an experienced mental health professional should be involved in the diagnoses and the care. This person can help monitor medication and also support someone with bipolar to move through challenges along the way.
As with most mental health conditions, self-help can play an enormous part in feeling better and more empowered to live with the diagnoses. Helpful steps to take include learning as much as is possible and that feels helpful about your experience and the wider research about the condition; watch your stress levels and take steps like yoga or meditation to bring a calm routine into your life. Build a personal support network of people that you trust and can talk to and make healthy choices about what you eat and your sleeping patterns. Finally, monitor your moods and look out for signs that an episode maybe on the way. If you notice this happening let your support people know and take the necessary steps to contain it.
There are lots more info about possible triggers and how to support a friend or family member at Bipolar UK