What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a chronic mental health condition, characterised by extreme mood swings between severe depression and elation, verging on euphoria, or mania. The condition was once-called "manic-depression", as it features these two distinct sides.
Many people who have bipolar disorder experience relative stability between the manic and depressive episodes, which can each last anywhere from a few days to a few months.
During the ups and downs, some people may have delusions or hallucinations. Sometimes, people go through what is called hypomania, where the up is not as high as a manic episode. This can be seen as quite a positive experience, as the person can be very creative and focused. Left without treatment, however, hypomania can also be devastating.
The exact cause of the condition is unknown, but research indicates a genetic predisposition. Onset usually occurs in the late teens or early 20s and it is estimated that it affects one in 50 Australians.
There are a number of conditions across the bipolar disorder spectrum, ranging from Bipolar Disorder I to cyclothymia - where the hypomanic phases are less severe - and so-called "subsyndromal" conditions.
What are some of the signs?
- Feeling very happy and like nothing can bring you down
- Taking risks
- Very fast thoughts
- Feeling like you don’t require much sleep
- Increased energy and speed
- Recklessness and lack of insight
- Overwhelming sadness
- Feeling hopeless
- Loss of appetite or overeating
- Lack of concentration
- Withdrawal from social activity
Strategies to help manage bipolar disorder
There are three main areas for treatment and management of bipolar disorder.
- Medication can often be useful in bringing your moods back to equilibrium
- Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) can be effective for those that are treatment-resistant
Talking therapies such as CBT or counselling can assist with the following:
- Better understand and learn to accept the disorder
- Identify warning signs
- Assist in adherence to medication plans
- Improve relationships and communication
- Learn coping strategies to better manage stress and conflicts
- Decrease depressive symptoms
- Address and reduce associated drug and alcohol use
Self-help and lifestyle changes can help with long-term management of bipolar disorder improve wellbeing and the success of complementary treatments.
- Take responsibility for your moods and stay involved in your treatment process
- Depending on whether you’re in a manic or depressive episode, increase or decrease the amount of stimulation around you, in order to bring your mood back to normal
- Decide on steps to take if you find your episodes are too much to handle and you feel you may harm yourself or others
- Keep a regular sleep routine and eat regular, healthy meals
When to seek professional assistance
About one third of people who suffer from bipolar disorder have work or relationship difficulties due to the condition. If you suspect that you are suffering from bipolar disorder it is important to get treatment as soon as possible.