This article covers
- What is bipolar disorder?
- Causes of bipolar disorder
- The symptoms of bipolar disorder
- Treating bipolar disorder
- List of useful resources
- How can Mindsum help?
What is bipolar disorder
Bipolar disorder also known as manic depression, is a serious and long-term mental illness that causes a person’s mood to swing between two extremes. This includes:
Mania/Hypomania – Experiencing high moods, irritability and a big increase in activity.
Depression – Feeling sad, having low mood, irritability or loss of interest.
Bipolar disorder is more common in younger age groups between 16-24 year olds. It is not like the common mood swing. Bipolar disorder is severe. It can cause problems in the everyday life of a child or young person and can sometimes lead to hospitalisation.
During an episode of depression, people with bipolar disorder can be overwhelmed by feelings of worthlessness. Because of this, people with this disorder can often have thoughts about suicide. It is important to pay attention to these signs, so that the right support can be given early on to prevent serious harm.
Causes of bipolar disorder
The cause of bipolar disorder is due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors and an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. These are some factors to consider:
- If a close relative has bipolar disorder
- Early life stress (e.g. abuse, neglect, trauma)
- Maternal death before turning 5 years old
- Use of cannabis
- Exposure to cocaine
The symptoms of bipolar disorder
It is likely that a person has bipolar disorder if they experience episodes of mania/hypomania and depression, or a rapid mixture of these two states. It is common for people with bipolar disorder to start off with a period of depression.
The symptoms of mania can include:
- Elevated mood, extreme irritability or aggression
- Having lots of energy, being highly active
- Speech that cannot be understood
- Not feeling the need to sleep for long or at all
- Having lots of racing thoughts and ideas
- Difficulty to concentrate
- Having extraordinary ideas or unrealistic plans (e.g. financial investments)
- Increased desire to engage in sexual activity
- Having psychotics symptoms (e.g. delusions or hearing voices)
Hypomania is the term used for the milder form of mania. These milder symptoms can include:
- Mild elevated mood or irritability
- Mild increase in energy or activity (e.g. in work performance or social life)
- Feelings of intense satisfaction with life, mental efficiency
- Increased talkativeness, being overly friendly
The symptoms of depression include:
- Feelings of sadness and low mood
- Lack of interest or pleasure in usual activities
- Difficulty to concentrate
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Lack of appetite
- Problems with sleep
- Thoughts/acts of suicide or self-harm
The episodes experienced in bipolar disorder can cause more problems in everyday life and can sometimes pose real dangers to safety. These problems can include:
- Financial issues (e.g. due to overspending, investing, buying lottery tickets)
- Injuries or accidents (e.g. from driving at high speeds)
- Neglect of own hygiene
- Sexually transmitted infections
- Behaving inappropriately at school or at work
- Dehydration or feeling exhausted (e.g. from not sleeping for many days)
- Can be taken advantage of by others (e.g. to spend money or to take part in sexual acts)
- Misuse of alcohol and other substances
“Dave is 19-years-old. He suffered from an intense period of depression a few months ago. Since starting college, he switched from history to philosophy and is convinced that he is going to revolutionise the field. There have been weeks where Dave hardly slept, spending hours online looking up new ideas. Dave has also had many sexual relations in the last few weeks, which his close friends say is not like him. Dave recently used his parent’s emergency credit card to purchase expensive courses, saying that he is going to change the world with his new knowledge. His parents have noticed these extreme behaviours and believe that it will be good for Dave to speak to a mental health expert.”
Treating bipolar disorder
The treatment and management of bipolar disorder is lifelong. It helps the episodes of mania/hypomania and depression to be less intense. This usually involves a comprehensive treatment plan that aims to help people achieve goals for their recovery. The doctor or psychiatrist will take the time to come up with a plan that is right for each person. This plan will include:
Medication is usually the first treatment that is given for bipolar disorder. It helps the brain to balance certain chemicals that cause the episodes. Mood stabilisers are prescribed for the mania/hypomania and anti-depressant medication for the depression. Different people respond to each medication differently. The doctor or psychiatrist will adjust the medication in a way that works for each person.
Therapy might also be offered, especially to cope with the depression that comes as part of the disorder. Talk therapy will encourage the person to talk about how they feel on a day-to-day basis, which can make it easier to notice changes in mood.
An intense form of cognitive behavioural therapy could be used by a mental health practitioner, to help with learning skills that will improve relationships and quality of life. Therapy might also involve other family members, who will work together in helping the person to cope with bipolar disorder.
A crisis plan
Sometimes people with bipolar disorder can feel like they are not able to cope and can have thoughts about self-harm or suicide. The doctor, psychiatrist or mental health expert might propose certain actions that can be taken in these situations. This might include encouraging the person to contact crisis services. A list of these can be accessed on the NHS website. Crisis teams are made up of mental health professionals that are there to offer urgent help on a 24-hour basis.
There are also lifestyle changes that can help when coping with bipolar disorder. These include:
- Keeping active and eating healthy – Staying active can be very helpful for fighting against depression by helping the brain to release natural “feel-good” chemicals. Exercise and healthy eating can also help to keep off excess weight, that can be the side effect of certain medications for bipolar disorder.
- Getting more sleep – Having a good sleep routine can be very helpful for concentration and to be able to cope with emotions better throughout the day.
- Talking about the condition with loved ones– Sharing feelings with loved ones can stop you from feeling isolated and alone. Loved ones can also spot when there are changes in mood and can take the necessary actions to make sure that you are taken care of.
- Engaging in support groups–There are many support groups with others recovering from bipolar disorder that are available online and in different local areas. This is also a great source of support that can help you to know that you are not alone.
You can have access to more information and support groups of Bipolar disorder on the Bipolar UK website. Click here to access the link.
You can also find useful information about Bipolar disorder on the Mind website. Click here to access the link.
The Samaritans offer a free helpline that is available 24 hours a day to support you. Click here to access the link to their website.