Bipolar disorder is a relatively common disorder, affecting about 2 people in every 100 in Australia. Despite this, most of us know little about it.
As bipolar’s previous name of manic-depression suggests, it consists of episodes of either mania (elevated mood) or depression (lowered mood). All people have fluctuations of mood; some people more than others. What distinguishes people with bipolar from other people is the degree of mood fluctuation. The manic or depressed mood is severe, is not affected by normal changes in life circumstances, and can last for weeks.
During hypomanic or manic phases, sufferers may feel extremely happy and full of energy, be talkative, sleep less, and have floods of ideas. However, they can also be irritable, and do things that they wouldn’t otherwise do, such as spend excessive amounts of money. During this phase, people may be unaware that they are ill, as minor levels of mania can feel stimulating and exciting.
Depressed phases can include lowered mood, lack of energy, a sense of despair, avoidance of people, loss of interest in activities, and thoughts of suicide.
During episodes of either sort, sufferers behave in ways that are uncharacteristic and uncomfortable for them. This is not something that they have control over, any more than someone with a heart condition is able to ‘get over it’. Although unusual behaviour may be uncomfortable for people around, it is even more uncomfortable for the person with bipolar disorder.
Although stress may precipitate an episode in which a person with bipolar becomes either high or low, often there is no obvious precipitant. For some unknown reason, mania is more common in spring, and depression is more common in early winter.
Treatment for bipolar disorder can include medication (antidepressants and mood stabilisers), and psychological therapy to address problems and develop a relapse prevention plan. Therapy can include training in recognising early signs of changing mood, assistance to challenge non-helpful thoughts, and strategies for managing mood, reducing stress and solving problems.
When relating to someone with bipolar disorder, remember that he or she is a person, rather than a disorder. At times the disorder may get in the way of how the person chooses to be, but it will never totally remove those aspects of personhood that make each of us individual.
Copyright 2004 - 2018 Kate Alessia