Bipolar disorder, previously known as manic depression, is a condition that affects your moods, which can swing from one extreme to another.
People with bipolar disorder have periods or episodes of:
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- depression –Tine of feeling very low and lethargic
- mania – feeling very high and overactive (less severe mania is referred to as hypomania)
Symptoms of bipolar disorder is dependent on which mood you’re experiencing. Unlike simple mood swings, each extreme episode of bipolar disorder can linger for several weeks (or even longer), and some people may not experience a “normal” mood very often.
You may initially be diagnosed with clinical depression before having a future manic episode (sometimes years later), after which you may be diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
During an episode of depression, you may experience an overwhelming feelings of worthlessness, which can potentially result to thoughts of suicide.
If you’re feeling suicidal or having severe depressive symptoms, contact your doctor, care co-ordinator or local mental health emergency services as soon as possible.
During the manic phase of bipolar disorder, you may feel very happy and have lots of energy, ambitious plans and ideas. You may spend large amounts of money on things you can’t afford and would not normally want.
Not feeling like eating or sleeping, talking quickly and becoming angry easily are also common characteristics of this phase.
You may feel very creative and view the manic phase of bipolar as a positive experience. However, you may also notice symptoms of psychosis, where you see or hear things that aren’t there or get convinced of things that aren’t true.
Living with bipolar disorder
The high and low phases of bipolar disorder are oftentimes so extreme that they interfere with everyday life.
However, there are many options for treating bipolar disorder that can make a difference. They target to control the effects of an episode and help someone with bipolar disorder live life as normally as possible.
The following treatment options are offered:
- medication to avoid episodes of mania, hypomania (less severe mania) and depression – these are known as mood stabilisers and are taken every day on a long-term basis
- medication to treat the main symptoms of depression and mania when they happen
- learning to recognize the triggers and symptoms of an episode of depression or mania
- psychological treatment – such as talking therapy, which can assist you deal with depression, and offers advice about how to improve your relationships
- lifestyle advice – such as doing regular exercise, planning activities you enjoy that give you a sense of achievement, as well as advice on improving your diet and getting more sleep
It’s felt that using a combination of different treatment methods is the best way to control bipolar disorder.
Assistance and advice for people with a long-term condition or their carers is also available from charities, support groups and associations.
This includes self-help and self-management advice, and learning to deal with the practical aspects of a long-term condition.
Bipolar disorder and pregnancy
Bipolar disorder, like all other mental health issues, can get worse during pregnancy. However, specialist help is offered if you need it.
What can cause bipolar disorder?
The exact cause of bipolar disorder is yet unknown, although it’s believed a number of things can trigger an episode. Extreme stress, overwhelming problems and life-changing events are thought to add to it, as well as genetic and chemical factors.
Bipolar disorder is fairly frequent and one in every 100 adults will be diagnosed with the condition at some point in their life.
Bipolar disorder can happen at any age, although it often develops between the ages of 15 and 19 and rarely develops after 40. Men and women from all backgrounds are also likely to develop bipolar disorder.
The pattern of mood swings in bipolar disorder varies widely between people. For example, some people only have a couple of bipolar episodes in their lifetime and are stable in between, while others have many episodes.