Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder characterised by swings in mood from depression (extreme low) to mania (extreme high). These extreme swings in mood led to the condition once being commonly known as manic depression.

Between 1 and 2% of the population of the western world suffer bipolar disorder, it is estimated that 1% of the UK and up to 2.6% of the USA population are affected.  While the condition's onset is common between the ages of 18 and 25, it can occur at any age and affect both men and women from all cultural and social backgrounds. 

Due to the prevalence of bipolar disorder sufferers having other family members with a severe depressive illness, there is strong evidence that there is a hereditory component to the disorder. Even with a genetic factor, bipolar disorder will usually have a trigger, for example abuse, a bereavement or traumatic event.

Symptoms of bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder commonly starts with a depressive episode, this leads many people to be diagnosed with major depression. A manic episode may then occur later, this could be a matter of weeks or could happen years after the initial depressive episode. 

While it is common for sufferers to have a period of normality between episodes, some bipolar sufferers experience shorter , more rapid swings from one extreme to the other; this is known as rapid cycling. Rapid cycling is more common in women, though can occur in either sex.

Depression symptoms can include

  • Lack of interest, motivation, enthusiasm, enjoyment
  • Feelings of hopelessness, bleak outlook - unable to see positivity in future
  • Sadness, tearfulness
  • Difficulties making decisions, doubting your capabilities
  • Low self-esteem, feeling guilty and lacking self worth
  • Lacking energy, tiredness
  • Sleeping changes
  • Appetite changes
  • Lack of desire/sex drive
  • Physical aches and pains
  • High anxiety
  • Self harming or suicidal thoughts

Mania symptoms can include

  • Feeling of euphoria, extreme pleasure
  • Enhanced creativity, ideas and plans
  • Fast paced thoughts
  • Speaking very quickly
  • Feelings of grandeur, self importance
  • Irritation, quick to snap or agitation
  • Appetite changes (usually feeling less hungry/not eating)
  • Full of energy
  • Sleeplessness
  • Lack of control or rational perception over consequences - for example people experiencing mania are more likely to gamble, shop excessively or take risks with sex, money or relationships.

Bipolar sufferers may also experience psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations; seeing, hearing or experiencing things that are not there, and/or delusions; ideas that are illogical. A sufferer may be unaware of experiencing a manic episode.

Diagnosis bipolar

It can be an arduous task to get the correct diagnosis of bipolar disorder, in fact there are statistics that show it can take years to receive correct diagnosis and therefore treatment. While this sounds bleak, it underlines the importance of reporting symptoms early and seeking help right away if you feel you, or someone you know may be suffering with the condition.

Bipolar disorder is commonly treated with medication and talking therapy. Ideal treatment will vary person to person, but expect treatment to be ongoing. Unlike mild to moderate depression which is commonly treated with short term medication and/or short term talking therapy, bipolar disorder usually needs longer term support.

The outlook for sufferers is good, with therapists diagnosing and treating the condition more effectively nowerdays. It is important that sufferers stick rigidly to any care plans they are given by their healthcare professional even in periods of feeling well.

The features, stories and news items below give further information on bipolar disorder, we hope you find them helpful.

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