Bipolar disorder is a kind of mood disorder where sufferers experience episodes of extreme elation or ‘mania’ alternating with episodes of extreme depression. It varies from person to person and in lower levels the manic phase can be highly productive while at more advanced levels this phase can lead to erratic behaviour and complete disconnect from the real world.
According to psychiatrist Dr Alexander Martin, who’s on the board of the YMCA counselling centre and practising Navi Mumbai said, ‘Mood swings are part of our emotional existence but when these swings are beyond the realm of normal, they qualify as an illness entity; in other words these emotions are extreme, without any quantifiable reason and persists for a long period of time. They cause immense handicap to the sufferer and distress those around him or her.’
Dr Martin says that there could be many plausible clauses and they can be grouped under three different categories – biological, psychological or social. The American Psychiatric Association believes that there’s a certain amount of genetic pre-disposition to the disease. 80-90% people sufferers usually have one close relative suffering from depression or bipolar disorder. Some environmental factors like stress, sleep disruption, drug and alcohol abuse can also trigger episodes in vulnerable patients.
Here is detailed information about 4 causes of bipolar disorder that you should know.
The symptoms of the disease vary from person to person. Usually, there are four kinds of mood episodes –
- Severe mania
- Hypomania (mild to moderate mania)
- Mixed episodes
The frequency and severity of both mania and depression vary. Some people are more prone to one or the other, while others may experience it equally.
Here are the symptoms of the different phases of bipolarity:
Symptoms of mania and hypomania
In the manic phase, many feel heightened energy, creativity and general euphoria. They are prone to fast bouts of speech, less sleep and hyperactivity. They tend to feel omnipotent, invincible and ‘destined for greatness’.
However, this often spirals out of control leading to erratic behaviour. They become overly aggressive, deriding others who don’t go along with their plans, picking fights and blaming anyone who criticises them. Those suffering from hypomania feel similar symptoms but are able to carry out their day-to-day activities normally to a certain extent.
Symptoms of bipolar depression
While earlier bipolar depression symptoms were believed to be similar to regular depression, new research suggests that there’s a difference between the two, particularly the recommended treatment.
Anti-depressants used to treat depression (major depressive disorder) don’t seem to work properly for bipolarity; in fact it can make the condition worse. Read more about causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of depression.
Bipolar depression is more likely to involve irritation, guilt and feelings of restlessness. People tend to sleep more, speak less or slowly and gain weight. They are also likely to face major disability in societal situations like work. There’s a feeling of extreme sadness or emptiness, irritability, fatigue, sluggishness, increased appetite and increased thoughts of committing suicide.
Dr Martin says, ‘Diagnosis as of now is based on the criteria laid down by the American Psychiatric Association in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual and the WHO’s International Classification of Disease.’ This basically involves a questionnaire which looks to document your mood over a period of time. The doctor will also take various blood and urine tests to rule out physiological conditions that could be affecting your mood and could have nothing to do with bipolar disorder.
Tests will also be taken to ascertain that you’re not suffering from any other medical condition which can mimic the symptoms of bipolar disorder like substance abuse disorders, ADHD or anxiety disorders.
Treatment usually involves a plethora of therapies including medication (mood stabilisers), psychotherapy (to cope with the uncomfortable feelings), support and lifestyle management. A particular important aspect of treatment is the support one gets from near and dear ones. Their support is particularly vital because of the way the disease affects those around you. Support groups also help to share experiences and learn from others who’ve walked down the same path.
Adds Dr Martin, ‘In the treatment plan – the patient, the doctor, family members, friends and society are equal stakeholders. Medications prescribed by the doctor, support from friends and family, a rehabilitative background from society and belief in the recovery process all play a vital part.’
If one thinks someone or he/she is suffering from the condition they should seek help immediately. Dr Alexander Martin says, ‘Professional help is available everywhere and one must not hesitate to seek it. Society on the other hand needs to do a lot to do away with the taboos associated with mental illnesses, bipolar disorders included. One must learn to come to terms with it and learn to live with it.’
Dr Martin says ‘There’s a common misconception that people who are psychologically ill are a dangerous to society and this is what prevents the sufferer a fair chance to recover. A person suffering from bipolarity is a danger to himself by virtue of his suicidal tendencies. Homicide or physical harm to others is extremely rare.’
The content has been verified by Dr Alexander Martin, psychiatrist practising in Navi Mumbai.