Bipolar is characterised by two distinct “mood states”. This is very different from mood swings, or having different personality types but is often referred to colloquially as this. It used to be called manic depression, but this is a bit misleading.
First it is important to discuss what mania and depression are.
“Mania” usually lasts for a period of a few weeks. When someone is manic, they may feel “high” and full of energy, ideas, and inspiration. They may feel like they are indestructible and partake in risky behaviours. They think (and often talk) very quickly and erratically, and their thoughts may become quite disorganised and difficult to follow for other people. Whilst manic, people often find it very difficult to sleep and will function on only a couple of hours sleep per night until they exhaust themselves. As a result, they can be very irritable and may say or do things which they wouldn’t normally, leading to problems with loved ones.
In extreme cases, whilst manic people may partake in very risky or wreckless behaviour. They may gamble excessively (or make very dangerous business decisions) and lose important assets such as their home, car, or business. They may have unsafe sex or do drugs. They may behave dangerously, putting their own safety or the safety of others at risk. Sometimes they even have psychosis – including hallucinations, which is the perception of something that isn’t there, or delusions, which in mania are usually grandiose beliefs. These can range from anything to having superpowers, or being immortal and invulnerable, or having grand ideas such as changing the world’s poverty or curing global warming.
The depressive episodes tend to last much longer. They can be months, or years in duration. They fit the diagnostic guidelines for major depression, which can be found further up in this section.
There are two types of Bipolar Disorder; Type 1s have had one or more manic phases, with or without a separate depressive phase. The manic phase might also have displayed symptoms of depression which is known as a “mixed state”.
Type 2s do not meet diagnostic criteria for “mania” but have a less severe state called “hypomania”. They also have depressive episodes as above.
In general, depressive episodes last much longer than the manic phase. In between the two, there can be long periods where the individual feels completely normal. They do not strictly alternate, and a person may have multiple depressive episodes before they have a manic episode.
It’s important to know that you won’t be doing this alone. Working closely with doctors and other mental health professionals to manage your symptoms will make living your life much easier. While it will be different for everyone, some of the treatment for bipolar may include:
Medication. Different types of drugs such as mood stabilisers, anti-psychotics and antidepressants can all be used to manage bipolar disorder. Check out the Black Dog Institute for more info. Most people are referred to a psychiatrist for medical treatment. Sticking to your medication plan is really important to your stability.
Counselling/psychological therapy. In most situations you’ll be referred to a psychologist, counsellor or other mental health professional to help you manage day to day life. They’ll provide helpful strategies and psychological therapies.
If you’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, there are a few things you need to be aware of:
Everyone’s experience of bipolar disorder is different, so how it is managed and treated is different for everyone.
Bipolar disorder can require long term treatment, so ongoing care by doctors is crucial to helping you manage your symptoms.
Psychological therapies and counselling are often not effective treatments on their own, but they can be helpful if used together with medication.
There are often multiple types of medication to treat different mood changes.
www.harbor-of-refuge.org – an online bipolar community, with a fully moderated chat room. It has information on safety guidelines for those managing their own bipolar or significant others with bi-polar, as well as self-care strategies.
www.moodswing.net – information on helping yourself and a loved one, questionnaires, definitions and resources, as well as chat rooms and a discussion board
If you’ve been affected by anything here on CheckPoint and would like to talk to someone, please refer to our Global Mental Health Directory, or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.