What Is Bipolar Disorder?
People with bipolar disorder experience extended periods of extreme high energy and mood called mania, and extended periods of extreme low energy and mood called depression. These episodes can vary in length, but they normally last from a few weeks to several months. In between, there are periods where you feel “normal.”
What causes Bipolar Disorder?
The exact cause of bipolar isn't known, although there is a genetic inheritance to bipolar. If someone in your family has bipolar, there is an increased chance of developing it. Researchers are still working out exact causes. In the meantime, we know stressful life events and other factors can trigger bipolar affective disorder in some people. Stresses like unemployment, relationship problems, exams and financial difficulties can be risk factors for some people. Early trauma (e.g. grief, physical or emotional abuse and neglect), physical illness, lack of sleep and misuse of alcohol, drugs and medications may also symptoms of bipolar disorder.
Symptoms usually fall into two main categories:
Symptoms of depression
Signs of depression may vary. Not everyone with depression will complain about sadness or a persistent low mood. You may have other signs of depression such as sleep problems, or you might find out you eat much less, or much more, than usual. Depression can cause you to lose interest in usual activities, become irritable, find it hard to concentrate or make everyday decisions. This can also make thinking clearly quite difficult; you may lose confidence, feel excessively guilty for minor wrongs and have thoughts of hopelessness, death and suicide.
Symptoms can include:
- low or depressed mood
- a sense of hopelessness
- lack of energy
- feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- inability to concentrate
- loss of interest in/enjoyment of usual activities
- feeling suicidal or trying to hurt yourself; these feelings must always be taken seriously: get help urgently
- sleep disturbances
- eating problems.
Symptoms of mania
If you experience mania, you might not be distressed by it. You feel fantastic. It’s others around you who see you aren't yourself. Mania symptoms vary, between people and, over time, in one person. Your elevated mood can be infectious and you might be the life of the party. You'll tell friends you're feeling great or never been better. However, your behaviour will be recognised as excessive by friends or family. You may also be irritable and experience rapidly changing emotions from laughter to tears to anger and back.
Experiencing mania can also change how you process thoughts, or your ability to concentrate. For example, you may feel like your thoughts are racing and friends may notice you constantly changing the topic of conversation or that you are easily distracted. With these changes comes an increased sense of self-importance that may start out as increased self-confidence that is not realistically in line with your skills, experience or abilities. For example, you might borrow money and start a business in a field where you have no experience.
A characteristic and early feature of bipolar is the loss of insight − losing awareness that your behaviour and experiences are due to a mental health problem. Manic episodes may include:
- elevated or ‘high’ mood
- extreme irritability
- talking very fast
- poor judgement
- racing thoughts and ideas
- unable to sleep
- feeling very important
- risky behaviour (e.g. excessive use of drugs/alcohol and spending money, aggressive or overly sexualised behaviour)
- doing things very fast and often (e.g. excessive cleaning).
Being diagnosed with bipolar disorder can feel scary, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. With a combination of therapy, lifestyle changes, support, and/or medication people do live full, meaningful lives. There are many people who live with bipolar disorder who are successful and have made great contributions to the world, their communities, and their loved ones. You can start off by contacting one of our therapists for your needs today.