World Bipolar Day will be celebrated on March 30th and aims to bring awareness to bipolar disorders and eliminate social stigma, improving sensitivity towards the illness through education. With the support of leading experts, the day seeks to promote the need for better treatments and improved methods of diagnosis.
Plutus Health CEO Martin Ricketts explains how bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression, affects those suffering, and the things you can do to help.
What is bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a condition that leads a person’s moods to swing from one extreme to the other. Episodes of intense depression are followed by episodes of mania, causing the individual to move between feeling very low and lethargic to alert and overactive. Unlike the variations in mood that we all experience, an extreme episode of bipolar disorder can last for several weeks, and those diagnosed report not experiencing a level mood often. The behaviours associated with bipolar disorder can interfere with the running of everyday life, and while many people have heard of bipolar disorder, less people understand the diagnosis fully.
The misconceptions and negative image of bipolar disorder can leave someone diagnosed feeling alienated. We can help by understanding more about what diagnosis means and making people aware of their rights when receiving treatment.
What causes bipolar disorder and how do I spot the symptoms?
The exact cause of bipolar disorder is unknown. It is more likely a combination of factors, such as a response to traumatic life events and extreme stress, in addition to genetic factors and chemical imbalances. Bipolar effects 1 in every 100 adults at some point in their lifetime, and is most likely to develop between the age of 15 and 19.
There are certain behaviours that are characteristic of the condition. During a manic episode the individual will experience an abundance of energy and a resulting loss of interest in eating and sleeping. Within this phase a person is likely to create ambitious plans, behave recklessly and spend excessive amounts of money on things they do not want or need. The person can be difficult to reach during this time, as they might view a manic episode as a positive experience in contrast to a depressed episode.
On the other hand, during a depressed episode a person will experience the symptoms associated with clinical depression, including lethargy, feelings of overwhelming worthlessness and in extreme cases, suicidal thoughts. In both manic and depressed episodes there is potential to exhibit psychotic symptoms, including delusions such as paranoia, or hallucinations.
Of course, anyone experiencing extreme symptoms of depression must contact a GP, care co-ordinator or local mental health emergency services as soon as possible.
What treatments are available to manage the disorder?
While the shifting nature of bipolar disorder can interfere with everyday life, there are options available to manage symptoms and live as normally as possible. The following are some of the treatments available following a diagnosis.
- Medication known as ‘mood stabilisers’ can limit the symptoms associated with depressed or manic episodes and are taken daily, on a long-term basis.
- Cognitive treatments, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, can help those suffering to understand their condition and benefit from advice that will improve their relationships and everyday interactions.
- Making conscious lifestyle changes, such as leading an active life, a commitment to finding activities you enjoy and improving your everyday diet have also been shown to ease symptoms.
- Self-care practices such as monitoring your mood and understanding your triggers can help to stabilise your condition. For example, be mindful of whether you feel low following a late night or manic when facing a tight deadline at work. You can then take practical steps to avoid triggering situations and feel empowered.
Help and advice for people with a long-term condition, and their carers, family and friends, is also available from charities such as mind, support groups and mental health associations.
Follow the conversation on Twitter this #WorldBipolarDay to bring awareness to bipolar disorders and eliminate social stigma.
Martin Ricketts is CEO of Plutus Health