Bipolar Disorder is the new version of what used to be referred to as Manic Depression. As the name suggests, it has two states that essentially are opposite in nature; Mania and Depression. The word “bipolar” basically means two poles. Or two opposite states of being. When we think of poles we might think of the north and south poles of the earth, or the poles of a magnet. A person with this illness will cycle between being manic or depressive. The shift from “high” to “low” could happen quickly or slowly. From just a few hours, up to a few days, usually. Sometimes the depression (particularly) could last several months.
Let’s tackle Depression first. If you need a reminder, see our last post on depression and Debbie’s experiences. The major features of depression are a low mood that lasts a long time. It’s often very difficult to get out of bed in the morning, you end up sleeping most of the day and still feel tired, and you avoid many social activities due to very low energy levels. It’s very common to have suicidal thoughts as well. Depression is probably one of the most common and well-known mental illnesses, with 1 in 5 people in Australia experiencing it in their life time.
Mania looks very different. Rather than sleeping for much of the day and avoiding social situations, people in the manic phase will spend most of their time awake. They will be super productive and believe they can do absolutely anything. They might start tackling one task and get distracted by another and transfer their attention to that, leaving the first incomplete. If this happens a number of times in quick succession, you might imagine that a lot of stuff can be left undone! One of the keys about getting lost in this kind of “productiveness” is that a lot of the time it’s not productive at all. One might start washing all the dirty clothes, but in reality the clothes being pulled out don’t actually need washing. Or the dishes don’t need cleaning. So the house could end up rather chaotic. Mania may also include disorganized, racing thoughts which often lead to rapid speech.
Sometimes people in a manic phase may convince themselves that they need the next big thing from the stores. So they purchase expensive products (bags, shoes, clothing, electrical appliances and so on) that they never use. Or they may convince themselves that gambling is the answer and end up with a problem with that.
Severe manic episodes could result in some psychotic symptoms such as hearing voices and hallucinations. Or even the false beliefs of some kind of super human ability.
There are two types of bipolar disorder – 1 and 2. You can find more on the differences at this site. Essentially, people with bipolar 1 experience what I have described above, and people with bipolar 2 have less severe manic episodes called hypomania.
The causes of bipolar are not well-known. Family history is said to play a part, as do environmental factors. Sometimes significant life events can be a factor for people who have a predisposition (family history) to it. Drug and alcohol abuse may trigger bipolar episodes in people who already have it.
Like many mental health conditions, people with bipolar respond well to specific medications, some kind of psychotherapy such as working with a psychologist, and lifestyle changes such as healthy nutrition, exercise and limiting alcohol.
Tomorrow I will publish the experiences of someone with bipolar disorder. This lady is a parent and works hard to balance her illness so she can be the best parent possible to her young child.