You’ve seen it before but still may not recognize it. You’ve often wondered how it is that they can be the life of the party today, the one everyone wants to know or be, and the dark cloud tomorrow that everyone wants to escape. They confuse you, annoy you, and sometimes flat out scare you.
Bipolar disorder is a disruptive mental condition characterized by pendular swings in mood, energy levels, sleeping patterns, judgement, behaviour, and ability to concentrate. It is a condition of the young, affecting majorly teenagers and those in their early twenties, and may also feature psychosis and paranoia.
While it is perfectly normal to have mood changes from time to time, the episodes of bipolar disorder are like the difference between a clear blue sky on a sunny day and the frigid dark of a moonless rainy night: the contrast is stark and intense.
According to the International Bipolar Association, a single episode can last between several months to years or as little as a single day at a frequency of a few or multiple times in a year. Like most mental disorders, the presentation of the condition is highly individual and the causes are often stress related or genetic.
Mania or hypomania (less intense) refers to an episode of elevated mood, also known as a high. Some telltale signs include impaired judgment, easy distractibility, insomnia, overenthusiasm, irritability, absences from work or school, underperforming at work or school, feeling invincible, forwardness, engaging in risky behaviour e.g. unsafe sexual practices, extreme sports, alcoholism, recreational drug use, etc, increased libido, euphoria, talkativeness, grandiosity, impulse buying and spending sprees.
The flip side. The bipolar depressive episode is defined as experiencing 5 or more of the following symptoms, with at least 1 of the symptoms being a depressed mood: gloominess or hopelessness, extreme sadness or despair, insomnia, anxiety over minor issues, pain with no physical cause that is unresponsive to treatment, increased or decreased appetite leading to weight gain or weight loss, extreme tiredness or fatigue, inability to enjoy activities that usually bring pleasure, difficulty with concentration and recall, sensitivity to noises, smells, and other sensations or suicidal thoughts.
Psychosis is an extreme feature of the disorder in which an intense episode of depression or mania may lead to difficulty differentiating reality from fantasy or fear i.e. a person experiencing psychosis may believe he is a celebrity or that he has more money than he actually does. Likewise, he may believe he is destitute and dying when he isn’t.
There are three bipolar disorders characterized by specific presentations.
Bipolar I disorder: the individual must have experienced at least one manic episode as well as a previous major depressive episode. Symptoms must have lasted for at least 7 days or less if the symptoms were severe enough to require hospitalization.
Bipolar II disorder: the criteria comprise one or more episodes of depression and at least one hypomanic episode. The issue with diagnosis is that people are more likely to seek help when experiencing a low mood than a high mood, making it difficult to distinguish type II from depression.
Cyclothymia: This includes episodes of hypomania and depression that are typically shorter and less severe than the mania and depression caused by bipolar I or bipolar II disorder, lasting a maximum of 1 or 2 months at a time over the course of a year or two, and never being absent for longer than two months at a stretch.
Bipolar disorder has of yet no known cure, thus current treatment aims at stabilizing mood and reducing the severity of symptoms to achieve maximum function in day-to-day life. Treatments include:
medication i.e. mood stabilizers, antidepressants, antipsychotics, anticonvulsants, sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medications
counselling on stress management and symptom management
lifestyle remedies i.e developing a routine, healthy dieting, establishing a regular sleep pattern, and exercising.
If you recognize yourself or anyone you know in this article, please do not hesitate to seek help. Whenever the desire to keep mental health issues hidden arises, remember that you wouldn’t think twice about going to the hospital for a broken arm. Your mind deserves just as much care as your body.