Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder - which used to be commonly referred to as manic depression - is a mental health condition which is characterised by mood swings from emotional highs to lows, and vice versa.

What is bipolar disorder?

The emotional highs (also known as mania (more extreme) or hypomania (less extreme)) can be intensely euphoric and energetic, while the emotional lows (or depression) can leave a person feeling sad, disinterested or hopeless. The nature of bipolar disorder means that it can affect many elements of everyday life, including behaviour, judgement, sleep and focus.

While some people experience symptoms between these mood swing episodes, other may not experience any. These mood episodes can range in frequency from rarely to multiple times a year, depending on the person.

Mania and hypomania can produce symptoms such as; feeling 'wired' or jumpy; not needing to sleep as much; boundless energy; feeling abnormally upbeat; being abnormally talkative, and being easily distracted. Depressive episodes can produce symptoms such as; feeling sad or empty; feeling hopeless; sleeping too much, insomnia; loss of interest in activities; weight loss; weight gain; fatigue; lack of ability to concentrate; lack of ability to make decisions; or contemplating suicide.

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The main types of bipolar disorder are classed as; bipolar I disorder, which involves one or more manic episode, which could be either preceded or followed by a hypomanic and major depressive episodes; bipolar II disorder, which means a person has had one or more major depressive episode and one or more hypomanic episode, but never a manic episode; and cyclothymic disorder, which has gone on for at least two years (one year for teenagers or children) and has included several periods of hypomania symptoms, followed or preceded by periods of depressive symptoms (not as severe as major depression).

Causes of bipolar disorder

While the exact cause of bipolar disorder is not yet known, two possible factors are; genetics, as people are understood to be more likely to get bipolar if they have a first degree relative with the condition; and biological differences, such as physical changes which occur in the brain.

Diagnosing of bipolar disorder

Steps for diagnosis of bipolar disorder may include; a physical examination to identify any medical issues which could be causing symptoms; laboratory tests, to identify any medical issues which could be causing symptoms; psychiatric assessment, which can involve a discussion about your thoughts and behaviour; and mood charting, which requires a person to keep a record of their moods, sleep patterns and other events which may assist with diagnosis.

Treatment of bipolar disorder

The primary treatment methods of bipolar disorder include; medications, which can help to balance mood swings effectively, and typically continues over the long term, even during times when people feel better, so as to avoid mania or depression; counselling, often in the form of day treatment programmes which provide support while symptoms are being brought under control; and substance abuse treatment, for people who have problems with alcohol or drugs.