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Bipolar depression, known in the past as manic depression, is a mental disorder which is characterized by alternating mood swings; periods that swing between elation and depression. It changes the person’s mood, energy, functionality and behavior.
However, with the right kind of attention in terms of medicines, therapies and counseling people suffering from bipolar disorder can live a normal life.
What Is Bipolar Disorder?
The term bipolar depression itself explains this disorder in the most succinct manner. “Bi” typically means two while “Polar” stands for extreme positions. Therefore “bipolar disorder” can be surmised as a mental illness where a person goes through cycles of extreme emotional turbulence. While the low mood swings are called depression, the euphoric mood swings are tagged as “mania”. However, this a simplistic explanation. The reality of this mental illness is much more complex.
Based on the data collected from National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R) it is estimated that 4.4% of U.S. adults experience bipolar disorder at some time in their lives.
Another disturbing fact which the data provided was that both men and women seem to suffer from this ailment in almost equal numbers which is very unusual.
Mania and Depression
As explained above, the distinguishing characteristics of bipolar disorder are periods of mania and depression. But what is the difference?
Mania can be described as a period of extremely high energy, giddiness, excitement, euphoria, obsessiveness, restlessness and overactivity and sometimes even symptoms of psychosis such as delusion are experienced.
Mania can cause all or some of these symptoms depending on the patient and the severity of the condition.
Depression however, appears as the opposite of mania. It can cause a total lack of motivation, lethargy, insomnia, inability to concentrate or focus on even the simplest tasks, a decrease in personal hygiene, self imposed social isolation, loneliness, a feeling of overwhelming sadness and/or hopelessness, paranoia, self harm and suicidal ideation.
Patients suffering from bipolar disorder will experience a combination of both mania and depression periodically.
Common Misconceptions about Bipolar Disorder
Like most mental illness there is a huge amount of social stigma surrounding bipolar disorder. This stigma leads to a feeling of shame and guilt amongst patients and makes them less likely to be open with people in their lives about their condition. As a result, there is very little understanding of the illness in society. Myths or misconceptions have cropped up as a result.
Here are some of the most common misconceptions:
1. Bipolar is all about mania and patients are manic all the time
2. Bipolar is the same as depression
3. There is only one type of bipolar disorder
4. Bipolar disorder is very rare and affects very few people
5. People who have bipolar disorder are just moody and don’t have a real illness
6. Medication is the only treatment for bipolar disorder
Types of Bipolar Disorder
Also known as unipolar depression, this form of bipolar disorder is characterized by manic episodes which could last up to a week. These manic episodes can be highly unsettling for the patient. In many cases, the patient needs to be admitted to the hospital due to uncontrollable emotional turbulence.
This form of bipolar is much more severe than bipolar I. A combination of depressive and manic episodes are the hallmark of bipolar II disorder. The patient will often require immediate hospitalization. Suicide attempts are unfortunately a very common result of this type of bipolar disorder.
This form of bipolar disorder which is often known as bipolar III portrays symptoms similar to bipolar II. However, it can last up to 2 years (less for children and youngsters). Hypomanic episodes are a common side effect. The lengthy duration of this form of bipolar makes it an extreme burden on the patient, their family and their friends.
This form of bipolar disorder is often identifiable by manic or hypomanic episodes which occur after the patient has taken antidepressant medications.
Finally, this form of bipolar disorder is diagnosed when the patient has a family history of bipolar disorder and suffers from bouts of major depressions themselves.
A combination of medications is the most common treatment for bipolar disorder. Medical conditions associated with mental illness require lots of tweaks and fine tuning before a perfect combination of potency and content is arrived at. Bipolar disorder is a long term medical condition, and therefore needs continuous monitoring. Medicines are just the beginning; to tame the symptoms.
2. Talk Therapies
Therapy works wonders in patients suffering from bipolar disorder. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is designed to help people who suffer from repeated manic depressive episodes. In a sense MBCT is a combination of cognitive therapy and meditative practices.
Charities and non-profit organisations provide many useful services which can be of great use to patients, including support groups and national suicide prevention lifelines or helplines. Therapy forms an integral part of any cohesive treatment plan.
People who are resistant to the above are often given electroconvulsive therapy a kind of “shock” treatment which offers immediate relief from a variety of depressive symptoms.
ECT uses shock waves to correct brain functions and thereby provides relief from bipolar disorder to an extent. It’s use can dull the effects of major depression and manic episodes. However, it is not seen as effective enough to be used as a treatment plan on its own.
4. Lifestyle Changes
Changes to the patients day-to-day lifestyle can have a positive impact on people with bipolar disorder. These can provide immense relief from the mental illness. Planning and organizing can help you balance your life in the most efficient manner and at the same time reduce mental strain.
Some examples include building strict routines, creating uncluttered home and office space, organizing various chores which do not clash with other activities, use of software applications that sound alerts for various tasks such as medicine time, time spent outdoors, a solid sleep routine.
5. Regular Sleep
Sleeping and waking up at fixed hours can offer permanent relief from bipolar depression. A decent number of hours in bed can mitigate negativity, regulate emotions, enhance cognitive functioning of the brain and even act as a mood stabilizer.
It has been proven that proper sleep pattern prevents relapse of this ailment. However, excess sleep can quickly build fatigue and stress which are bad signs and the foundation for another episode.
6. Physical and Mental Exercise
Exercise releases neurotrophins, a kind of protein which helps improve brain functioning. On the other hand reading and brain related activities can simply pep up the neurons and result in positive thinking.
Mental and physical exercises pump up the adrenaline and are one of the most popular ways of keeping a check on depressive symptoms.
Pets, especially dogs, can do a world of good for those who are looking for ways and means to manage bipolar disorder. Interacting with animals can result is the production of certain neuro chemicals that offer a sense of mental and emotional calmness.
Moreover, it also results in the increase of beta endorphins, a chemical substance which is a natural pain killer and also dopamine which offers that feel good factor.
Suspect You May Suffer from Bipolar Disorder?
Hopefully this article has provided you with a good general understanding of what bipolar disorder is. But what should you do if you now suspect you may be suffering from the condition?
There are a number of options for potential patients in search of specific diagnosis:
A visit to your family doctor to discuss your symptoms is a very important step. Your doctor will be able to come to a conclusion based on your experience. If they think that you are suffering from bipolar disorder, they will recommend a treatment plan for you if he/she feels one is appropriate.
Similarly, if they conclude that you are not suffering from bipolar disorder they can help you to explore other possibilities until together you find a solution that works for you.
There are many non-profit organisations and charities that specialize in advocacy work in the area of mental health and mental illnesses. They work to build social awareness and understanding of mental health issues, and act as a valuable resource.
Organisations such as these can provide invaluable support to sufferers and offer seasoned experience and advice.
Psychotherapists are highly qualified individuals working in a field that has studied the human brain and emotions for hundreds of years. They can offer a unique insight for patients who are experiencing mental illness.
Perhaps you experience some of the symptoms of bipolar disorder, but are unsure if these are a result of a different mental illness. In this case, a psychotherapist can provide guidance and knowledge that will be invaluable.
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