Bipolar (overview)

Bipolar disorder causes sufferers to fluctuate between periods of intense or manic depression to times of relative calm.

This film looks at the causes of bipolar disorder, the signs that someone may have bipolar and the treatment options available.

What is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a complex and sometimes devastating mental illness. It’s characterised by extreme mood swings which is why the disease was once known as manic depression. Today, nearly millions of adults suffer from the condition.

Bipolar disorder is chronic, incurable and can be life-threatening. Nearly one in five sufferers commit suicide. But Bipolar disorder can be controlled, many of the world’s most creative and successful people are living with this illness every day. A combination of medications and good psychotherapy services can mean that somebody with Bipolar disorder has quite a good shot at having a normal and regular life.

Symptoms of bipolar disorder?

People living with Bipolar disorder experience dramatic shifts in mood, energy and thought. The word Bipolar means two opposites which refers to these extreme mood swings from energised mania to deep depression. These moods have no pattern, they may come and go suddenly and single episodes of mania or depression can last for months, or even years.

Bipolar disorder is a cyclical disorder where its really only a matter of time until another episode hits. During so-called ‘manic episodes’ people say they feel important and energised. You are not in control of yourself, spending money that you don’t have, putting yourself deep into debt, having racing thoughts, delusions of grandeur, talking too fast and people don’t understand what you’re talking about.

Symptoms of mania can also include elevated sex drive, substance abuse, hostility and reckless and impulsive behaviour. If the symptoms are severe, patients may even experience hallucinations and delusions. When bipolar episodes cycle to depression people often feel overwhelming sadness and debilitating despair.

The symptoms of depression include loss of energy, changes in sleep and eating patterns and thoughts of suicide. And while these symptoms can be overwhelming nearly half of those suffering from Bipolar disorder do not get the medical care they need.

Causes of bipolar disorder

If you, or someone you know is experiencing the symptoms of Bipolar disorder it is important to seek medical attention before a crisis develops. There are several types of Bipolar disorder classified in a continuum from mild to severe. The two major types are Bipolar One, the most severe form of the illness and Bipolar two, which is milder.

Nobody’s Bipolar disorder is just like the next persons, the intensity of symptoms, the cycling of symptoms looks really different from person to person. Bipolar disorder affects men and women of every race, age and economic class and while no-one knows the exact cause of the illness researchers have identified several contributing factors.

Studies show that Bipolar disorder, like other depressive illnesses can resolve from abnormal functioning neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that help regulate mood and since the illness often runs in families scientists believe there is also a strong genetic link.

Still some people with the genes may never develop the illness, researchers suspect it takes a combination of biological, genetic and environmental factors to trigger bipolar episodes. If you have a very strong genetic predisposition to Bipolar disorder you can have the most idyllic life in the world and you still may get sick. If you have a very weak predisposition to Bipolar disorder you may need to have to a lot of stresses in your life to really cause this disease to kick in.

Treating bipolar disorder

While there is no known cure for Bipolar disorder a combination of medication, psychotherapy and lifestyle changes can help those with this illness lead full productive lives.

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