Bipolar disorder (formerly known as manic-depressive disorder) affects some 60 million people worldwide, so there’s a good chance that you or someone you know is affected by it. But despite bipolar disorder being so common, it remains misunderstood by many of us.
Bipolar disorder is characterised by alternating periods of mania (“highs”) and depression (“lows”). These differ in intensity from normal mood swings, and this intensity is often the first indicator that something is wrong. While the average age of onset is 25, misdiagnosis is extremely common in sufferers. This is largely due to people seeking help for depressive symptoms and not mentioning manic symptoms, since mania generally doesn’t feel bad.
Bipolar mania is a period of extreme highs. During a manic episode, a person may be restless, agitated, and extremely energetic. They may talk faster than normal, switching topics frequently, and be very self-assured. Also, they can often go days with very little sleep and not experience fatigue.
Bipolar depression is at the opposite end of the spectrum. This depression can last weeks or months in some cases, and is characterised by changes in sleep patterns (insomnia or extreme fatigue), lack of motivation, extreme emptiness, and thoughts (or actions) of self-harm or suicide.
Bipolar disorder can be broken down into two principle categories: bipolar I and bipolar II:
- Bipolar I – This type of bipolar disorder is considered the most severe, and is characterised by at least one manic episode and one depressive episode. The episodes vary in length from a period of at least one week to several months.
- Bipolar II – Bipolar II is indicated by at least one depressive episode and episodes of hypomania. Hypomania is a less severe type of mania but is still serious enough to impact everyday life.
The main known cause of bipolar disorder is genetics. People who have at least one parent with bipolar disorder are about 10-15% more likely to develop the disorder themselves, and that chance jumps to 30-40% if both parents suffer from bipolar disorder. Studies of twins show strong evidence that genetics play a big part in the development of bipolar disorder.
Treatment for bipolar disorder consists of medication, such as mood stabilisers, and psychological therapy, specifically cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). With consistent treatment, bipolar sufferers often see some improvement in symptoms, sometimes even a couple of months after beginning medication.
Bipolar disorder is a very serious illness that affects so many people globally. We owe it to our friends, our families, and ourselves to educate each other on this disorder and to do what we can to help sufferers.
If you or someone you know is seeking information on bipolar disorder, contact our private London psychology clinic here.