By Nico Strydom
Bipolar disorder is an illness characterised by extreme changes in mood, energy and behaviour.
However, according to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag), it is more than a mere change in mood. It is a chemical imbalance in the brain and causes phases of depression, followed by intense happiness or manic behaviour with normal moods in between.
“Bipolar disorder is when you experience sudden, dramatic shifts in the most extreme emotions.” According to Sadag, there are four kinds of mood episodes in bipolar disorder: mania, hypomania, depression and mixed episodes. There are two main kinds of bipolar disorder, known as bipolar 1 and bipolar 2.
Bipolar 1 sufferers have manic or mixed episodes (an episode when symptoms of mania and depression occur together) with depression almost always being present. Bipolar 2 sufferers only have hypomania (a less serious form of mania) and depressive episodes and not full manic or mixed episodes.
What causes bipolar disorder?
The precise cause of bipolar disorder is not known but it is believed that biochemical, genetic and psychological factors play a role. According to research the illness is accompanied by a chemical imbalance in the brain. The illness is also inclined to be genetic and researchers have identified a number of genes linked to the illness. Mania and depression often are cyclic, which means they occur at certain times of the year. Sometimes a stressful life occurrence can cause an episode of mania or depression.
How is bipolar disorder diagnosed?
Diagnosis is based on the patient’s description of his or her mood fluctuations. Family history of the illness is also taken into account. Numerous patients are often first diagnosed with depression but should they already have received treatment for it and the symptoms do not improve, there is a possibility that he or she is suffering from bipolar disorder instead.
How is bipolar disorder treated?
If bipolar disorder is not treated it could have serious consequences, such as great personal suffering, disrupted relationships and eventually even suicide.
Counselling plays an important role in the treatment of bipolar disorder as the factors that could lead to manic and depressive episodes are looked at.
Medication for bipolar disorder is mostly in the form of mood stabilisers but sometimes also antidepressants and antipsychotic substances.
According to Sadag there are five key concepts that can help sufferers to manage the illness:
Hope – When symptoms are well managed, it is possible to experience long periods of wellbeing.
Personal responsibility – It is sufferers’ responsibility to with the help of others take action to stabilise their moods.
Self-advocacy – Protect yourself and gain access to the services and treatment you need.
Education – Learn everything you can about depression and bipolar disorder. It allows you to take good decisions about all aspects of your treatment and life.
Support – The support of others is essential.
National Institute of Mental Health: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/bipolar-disorder/index.shtml
Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bipolar-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355955