Bipolar and Manic Depression
Bipolar illness also known as manic depression disorder, is a serious medical condition that is responsible for drastic changes in moods. These changes usually prevent a person from functioning in a healthy manner. Many people experience various ups and downs through daily life but these are the normal shifts of mood that don't stop functioning and are not steadily persistent.
Bipolar disorder is also commonly seen alongside other mental health disorders such as anxiety. The actual term 'bipolar' represents the two sides or 'poles' of a person's mood. On one side is the low mood of depression and on the other is the high mood known as 'mania.' A person will experience mood swings, which involve a flip from a low mood to a high one, and vice versa. These swings can vary from mild to severe and include characteristic cognitive patterns and behaviours.
Common SymptomsThe symptoms of bipolar disorder involve two separate phases: the manic phase and the depressive phase.
Manic PhaseDuring the manic phase, symptoms tend to be those of extreme excitability and elevated moods. A person will often be overly talkative, to the point that others have difficulty understanding the person. They are also very hyperactive and may even be agitated. Other signs of mania include:
- Difficulty focusing
- Compromised judgement
- Racing thoughts
- Overwhelming energy
- Increased sexual drive and activity
- Less sleep than usual
Manic episodes are usually of shorter duration than depressive ones. A depressive episode will last approximately 6 months while a manic one is about half that time. During diagnosis, a person is often diagnosed with major depression but once a manic episode is experienced, the diagnosis evolves to bipolar disorder.
Depressive PhaseDuring the depressive phase, a person will have a low, sad mood, often with feelings of intense helplessness and misery. They may cry a great deal, and experience anxiety, guilt and withdrawal from friends and family. Other symptoms characteristic of the depressive phase are:
- Appetite changes
- Sleep disorders
- Non-specific aches and pains
- Reduced sexual interest and activity
- Loss of interest in once enjoyable activities
TreatmentThe presentation of bipolar disorder varies from one person to another. Unfortunately, if treatment is not begun, the illness can progress as time passes. Treatment is multifaceted and will depend on the frequency and severity of your manic and depressive symptoms. Medications commonly prescribed for depression include:
Medications that may be prescribed to moderate the manic phase are:
There are many ways to address bipolar disorder and these also involve alternative treatments and lifestyle modifications. Some of the things you can do to help stabilize bipolar disorder are:
- Learn to sense the symptoms that trigger a mood swing and use techniques or medications to control them
- Keep open communication with a supportive doctor
- Read about your illness and alert family and friends to your moods
- Adopt a healthy lifestyle, which includes a balanced diet, exercise and plenty of sleep
- Take any medications as directed
- Avoid stimulants such as caffeine
In addition, psychotherapy can be beneficial for treatment of bipolar disorder. Before the introduction of medications such as antidepressants and tranquilizers, psychotherapy was more commonly used to treat bipolar disorder. Many doctors now use medication as a primary treatment means and don't find psychotherapy to be needed. A comprehensive plan, however, will likely utilize both strategies to provide maximum benefit to the patient. By approaching you bipolar disorder from all angles and including medication alongside psychotherapy and lifestyle adjustments, you can experience greater control over your illness.