Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression, is a serious mental condition that is only recently getting the coverage it deserves. According to the charity Mind, around 2 out of every 100 people in the UK have bipolar disorder. Although it is a treatable mental disorder, in many cases it is left undiagnosed giving rise to dire consequences for the affected individual and those close to them. It occasionally even leads to suicide, when it all gets too much for an individual and they see no other easy way out. As bipolar disorder is a challenge to diagnose due to symptoms overlapping with other conditions, it does not have the recognition it needs as an illness and is therefore undertreated if treated at all.
Bipolar disorder symptoms to watch out for
Typical signs of bipolar disorder are the extreme and uncontrollable mood swings. An individual with bipolar disorder may find themselves fluctuating between feelings of manic euphoria (mania) to desperate and hopeless lows (depression). These periods of depression or mania can last as long as several weeks or months before the pendulum swings to the other emotional extremity once more.
It is possible for individuals with bipolar disorder to be diagnosed with clinical depression if they are yet to go through a manic phase (which may come several years later). People suffering from depression often struggle in their day-to-day lives, as they are bogged down by a sense of worthlessness and overwhelming anxiety. In severe cases, they may even consider suicide. Occasionally, they may even follow through with their dark thoughts.
Thankfully, there is a lot of help on the internet as well as telephone helplines. If you or anybody you know is going through a rough patch and experiencing suicidal thoughts, it is of the utmost importance that you get in touch with a GP or specialist. If you ever need to share your thoughts, or just need someone to talk to, the Samaritans are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to help people through the hard times.
The manic stage of bipolar disorder is far less desperate, and may even be enjoyable for some people before they sense the depression creeping in again. People going through the manic stage may be bursting with energy, happy and full of optimistic ambition. They may find themselves spending more money than they can afford on things they wouldn’t usually consider buying. Bursts of creativity are common, but psychosis is also possible, wherein things that aren’t there are heard or seen. Bipolar people in the manic stage may talk faster than usual, and become easily irritated. Normal activities such as sleeping and eating may also lose their appeal.
How to cope with bipolar disorder
Bipolar mood swings can often be so severe that leading a ‘normal’ life becomes a daunting challenge. If a diagnosis is made, people no longer have to suffer in silence, unable to understand what is happening to them and why their emotions can get so out of hand.
There are a number of treatments available that can help people with bipolar disorder get on with their lives, no longer completely overshadowed by their condition.
Bipolar disorder treatments include:
- Medication – In the form of mood stabilisers, medication can be used to avoid episodes of depression, mania, and hypomania (a less extreme form of mania). This type of medication would have to be taken on a long-term basis. There is also medication available that can treat the symptoms of mania and depression as and when they happen.
- Psychological treatment – undergoing therapy can help people deal with their symptoms, and offer invaluable help as to how to improve relationships.
- Understanding the condition – learning to recognise what triggers manic or depressive symptoms.
- Lifestyle changes – although this may seem hard to achieve, especially during an episode of depression, making certain lifestyle changes can improve the quality of life of somebody with bipolar disorder. These changes could be as simple as eating healthily, regularly exercising, attempting to sleep more, and planning certain activities that put a smile on your face.
- Talking to your loved ones.
Specialists believe that combining various treatments is the best way to control bipolar disorder in the long term. It is very important that a correct diagnosis is made, as a misdiagnosis either way of bipolar disorder can be extremely damaging to the individual involved.