What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar Disorder is a mood disorder characterised by cyclic periods of elevated (mania) and depressed mood. Bipolar is present in approximately 1% of the population and the majority of cases appear in men.
The DSM-5 identifies two types of bipolar disorder:
- More common
- Characterised by both manic and depressive episodes, with manic episodes experienced in higher frequency.
- A person will experience more depressive episodes with infrequent episodes of hypomania.
Types of Episodes
A manic episode is a period of abnormally elevated or euphoric mood that can last from days to months if left untreated, and are characterised by:
- Decreased need for sleep
- Inflated self-esteem
- Rapid flow of ideas and speech
- Increased sexual drive
- Risk taking behaviours and impulsivity
- Disconnectedness from reality
Hypomania is a state of elevated mood that is less extreme compared to mania. A person will still be able to maintain contact with reality and does not require hospitalisation or medication.
Depressive episodes are longer in duration than mania and are characterised by persistent sadness or feelings of anxiety.
A person may experience:
- Abnormal sleeping patterns
- Feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness
- Poor concentration
- Decreased libido
- Thoughts/attempts of suicide
Bipolar Disorder is likely caused by an interaction of genetic, biological and environmental factors. Susceptibility to the development of Bipolar is increased if:
- A first-degree relative has been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder
- There is a presence of biochemical imbalances in the brain
- Stressors are handled with poor coping strategies
Signs and Symptoms
If you or someone you know exhibit any combination of the following symptoms, it is important to speak to a medical or mental health professional:
- Depressed mood
- Irregular appetite or sleeping patterns
- Feelings of worthless or guilt
- Inability to concentrate and make decisions
- Thoughts of death or suicide
- Elevated or irritable mood
- Rapid, nonsensical speech
- Racing thoughts
Treatment and Support
Treatment is dependent upon the severity and type of Bipolar disorder. Treatment is important when a person is not able to manage everyday life, and pose a risk to themselves or others. During treatment, health professionals will aim to reduce intensity of depressive or manic states.
There are various different types of medication that a doctor may prescribe to manage Bipolar disorder. These include:
- Antidepressants: relieve depressive symptoms by correcting chemical imbalances in the brain. It is important to monitor this closely, however, as it should be altered if a person enters a manic state.
- Mood-stabilisers: help to reduce the frequency and severity of mood changes, particularly mania. A doctor may request routine blood tests whilst taking this form of medication to ensure it is not compromising your health in any way.
- Antipsychotics: Used to treat manic episodes. Antipsychotic medications are fast and safe to use for this purpose if prescribed by a medical professional.
Psychology is an effective intervention once acute symptoms have been managed and a person is no longer experiencing a manic or depressive state. When combined with medications, psychological counselling is able to help a person understand their illness, how it is going to impact their lives, and assist them in developing relapse prevention plans to reduce future risk.