An Overview of Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder is the modern term for mood swings that used to be called manic depression. It is a fairly common yet serious mental illness, affecting between one and five per cent of Americans of all ages. Unfortunately there is usually a delay of several years before the diagnosis is made.
Bipolar disorder has no known cure. The likelihood is that the individual will need long-term medication and ongoing support. But if it is well managed, with help from family, friends, support groups and health professionals, the person with bipolar disorder can lead a productive and satisfying life: many people with bipolar disorder are married, have families, work, study and pursue pastimes of their choice.
Advances in drug therapy together with new approaches to non-medical treatment are making the future appear more optimistic for patients.
In a Nutshell, What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder involves extreme mood swings from mania (a form of euphoria or feeling like one has a lot of energy) to deep depression. It has no simple cause, but there is strong evidence that it is associated with changes to various brain chemicals. The precise way in which this happens is not yet known. It may be triggered by the stress of everyday life or a traumatic event or, in rare cases, physical trauma such as a head injury.
The average age of people diagnosed with bipolar disorder used to be 32, but during the past decade it has dropped to under 19. This is probably partly due to increased awareness of the disorder among the public and mental health practitioners.
There is much debate about the ethics of labeling children and young people with a bipolar diagnosis — not least because there is no definitive test for the illness. But one of the advantages of a correct diagnosis is that it may allow for early and more effective treatment of young people.
The Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis
In recent years, diagnoses of bipolar disorder have become more sophisticated. Diagnoses such as Bipolar I or Bipolar II, reflect differences in both the severity and duration of moods. This helps doctors to assess the right balance of medical and non-medical treatment that will best reduce the frequency and severity of mood swings.
Some people recognize their symptoms early enough to seek diagnosis and care, whereas others fight hard to deny they are ill until a crisis forces them to accept they need help.
Once the diagnosis is accepted, the patient is able to develop insight which can highlight impending episodes. Warning signals are specific to the individual, but in mania might include difficulty sleeping, irritability, feeling oversexed, staying out late and spending too much. With depression there are also early warning signals such as tiredness, not wanting to visit friends or losing interest in sex. Episodes are often triggered by specific problems, such as relationship stress or career difficulties.
When this happens, an action plan can be followed, with a series of practical responses. Effective management of bipolar disorder also means maintaining good mental health between episodes, such as regularly reviewing anxieties and stresses which can stop them building up and provoking a major crisis.