Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that causes shifts in the sufferer’s mood. It causes a person to shift between 2 different moods, namely mania and depression. This condition was formerly known as manic-depressive disorder.
Bipolar disorder affects 2–5% of the general population worldwide. The majority of sufferers experience episodes of depression more often than episodes of elevated mood or mania, while some sufferers may only experience mania.
Causes of Bipolar Disorder
It is currently thought that bipolar disorder can be caused by a number of different factors, including genetic dispositions such as faulty genes that have been passed down from generation to generation, as well as genetic irregularities that may have developed congenitally. People who have a family history of bipolar disorder, as well as other psychological illnesses, have a greater risk of developing bipolar disorder than the rest of the population.
Additionally, the condition could be caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. Environmental factors can play a part too, such as a person’s upbringing and the accumulation of stress. Medical conditions such as hypothyroidism can also be the cause of bipolar disorder.
Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
Patients suffering from bipolar disorder generally experience mood swings between periods of mania (elevated happiness) and depression, with these feelings occurring independently of the patient’s current situation. During periods of depression, patients may:
- Lose interest in regular activities
- Feel tormented
- Become bored easily
- Feel fatigued
- Be pessimistic
- Some may even develop suicidal thoughts, which may lead to attempted suicide.
On the opposite end, when the patient is experiencing mania, they may:
- Have feelings of superiority / arrogance.
- Sleeping a lot less than usual, without subsequently feeling exhausted or tired.
- Speak quickly, frequently, and without pause.
- Generate thoughts at a high speed / have many trains of thought going on simultaneously.
- Lack of focus / inability to concentrate.
- Rapidly changing interests; rapidly changing the topic of conversation or what they are doing or being easily distracted.
- Partaking in numerous activities simultaneously, whether planning or physically doing, but never carrying them out to the best of their ability.
- Being unable to make well thought-out, reasoned decisions. For example, wasting money, committing dangerous or illegal acts, or being unable to control their sexual urges.
Moreover, some patients may become frustrated to the extent that they become aggressive and abuse others, either mentally, physically, or both. In the more severe cases, patients may display other psychological symptoms, such as believing they have superhuman capabilities or having either visual or auditory hallucinations.
Diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder
The doctor will make a diagnosis after a consultation, a review of the patient’s medical records, and a full physical check-up and psychological assessment (in the form of a questionnaire). As the information received relates to both the patient and their relatives, it will help the doctor understand the patient’s current state of mind. The doctor will also be aware of whether or not the patient has any relatives who suffer from psychological conditions, and whether there are any underlying health issues for which the patient is on medication, which may have side effects similar to bipolar disorder.
For people who feel that they are experiencing mood swings that differ from those of the general population, for those whose jobs or relationships with those close to them are heavily affected, as well as those experiencing eating disorders or insomnia, a doctor’s appointment is recommended undergo a proper diagnosis in order to determine whether or not they are suffering from Bipolar Disorder.
The main form of treatment for bipolar disorder is medication. Doctors prescribe psychiatric medication to control the patient’s mood. Doctors will also advise patients on how to take care for themselves in order to have control of their moods. Most patients will see a decrease in their symptoms and be able to return to their daily lives after a period of between 2–8 weeks.
For some patients, doctors may advise a course of psychological therapy to help manage stress levels more effectively and to reduce any conflict they may be encountering in their relationships that may also be causing the stress.
However, with rates of recurrence as high as 90%, doctors often advise first time sufferers to take medication continuously for a period of 2 years in order to prevent against recurrence. The period during which medication is prescribed may be prolonged depending on how long the patient has suffered from the condition.
Advice for Patient and Their Family
Patients suffering from bipolar disorder are advised to:
- Try to get proper/enough sleep.
- Take care of their general health, for example, exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, and avoid drugs and alcohol.
- Engage in stress-relieving/calming activities.
- Take any medication as instructed by the doctor (if experiencing any side effects, consult a doctor, as medication should not be stopped without medical approval)
- Take time to study the condition and make a doctor’s appointment immediately if the condition worsens.
- Inform those close by of the condition’s initial symptoms to help them understand what to watch for and when to suggest a doctor’s visit.
Relatives or those close to the patient should adhere to the following advice:
- Understand that any abnormal behavior or attitude of the patient is caused by the illness.
- Help to ensure that the patient takes their medication as instructed by their doctor, and that they strictly adhere to the medical advice they received.
- Research and study the condition, so that you can make a doctor’s appointment immediately if the symptoms worsen.
- Assist the patient with how they spend their money or with any other behaviors which could potentially cause them harm.
- Do not allow the patient to stop taking their medication without being advised by the doctor. If the patient is displaying signs that their condition is improving, be sure to offer your encouragement.