This articles is all about the Bipolar Disorder spectrum, what it is, signs and symptoms, treatment and we have also included a list of links and resources which you may find useful. You can also discuss your experiences with bipolar disorder on our community and share any useful hints and tips that others may find helpful.
What Is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar Disorder is a mood disorder that is characterised by periods of highs (mania) and periods of lows (depression) and was formerly known as Manic Depression. It can often be confused with having mood swings but this is NOT bipolar disorder. Episodes of mania or depression last longer than a week, sometimes weeks or months. It is different from clinical depression, although people with bipolar disorder can have episodes of depression. People who suffer from bipolar disorder may also suffer from hallucinations and may have paranoid delusions or delusions of grandeur.
Bipolar Disorder can ONLY BE DIAGNOSED BY A MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL. Having mood swings or feeling happy sometimes then sad other times does not mean you have Bipolar Disorder. Bipolar Disorder, like any other mental health disorder cannot be self-diagnosed. You do not have Bipolar Disorder until a qualified medical professional says you do, so if you have concerns please make a doctor appointment as soon as possible.
There are many different types of bipolar on the bipolar spectrum, so if you suspect that you may have bipolar disorder, you should seek medical advice straight away.
Signs and Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
Symptoms of bipolar can be split up into hypomania, mania and depression.
Hypomania and Mania
Hypomania is a milder form of mania and in the early stages, it may make you feel good about yourself and feel productive, but it is also important to monitor your mood and behaviour whilst having a hypomanic episode as it can soon escalate into mania. Many people report that their mania feels good to begin with, but it can soon turn into irritation and agitation as people cannot keep up with their train of thought or see why their ideas are great that can change the world. The symptoms of hypomania are similar to mania, only milder and psychosis and delusions are not present. Symptoms of mania:
- Inflated self-esteem
- Grandiose ideas and delusions
- Having a lot of energy
- Decreased need for sleep
- Constant flight of ideas
- Racing thoughts
- Engaging in risky behaviour e.g going on spending sprees, investing in shares
- Increase in sexual desire and decreased inhibitions
- Increased alcohol intake or taking illegal substances
- Increase in goal orientated behaviour (may start writing books, start dieting, exercise etc)
- Becoming increasingly talkative and talking very fast that other people find it hard to keep up with you
- Feeling irritable
- Fixating on minor details
- Poor judgement
- Heightened senses (hearing, taste and smell might be sharper than usual)
- Impaired insight
People with bipolar disorder can also experience depressive episodes, however this is not always the case. Symptoms of depression include:
- Feelings of persistent sadness that does not go away
- Feeling hopeless
- Feeling worthless
- Becoming more tearful than usual
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Comfort eating or completely losing your appetite
- Losing confidence in yourself
- Low self-esteem
- Feeling anxious
- Not being able to concentrate properly
- Isolating yourself from your friends and family
- Feeling more tired and lethargic than usual
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Feelings of guilt
- Loss of sex drive
- Losing interest in things you used to enjoy
- Self harm
- Thoughts of wanting to end your life
A mixed episode is where both symptoms of mania and depression occur simultaneously. These episodes can be the most problematic of states as the sufferer will have the increased energy, racing thoughts and irritability that comes with mania but may also feel impulsive and have increased suicidal thoughts, with auditory hallucinations and delusions of persecution. If you are experiencing a mixed state, you need to seek medical advice urgently.
Treatment for Bipolar Disorder
If you suspect that you may have bipolar disorder then you need to seek medical attention straight away. Bipolar disorder can escalate very quickly if left untreated and it can cause a lot of damage to your personal life. Although it is a serious mental health disorder, it is very treatable and manageable and many people with bipolar disorder lead stable and fulfilled lives.
Your first port of call will normally be your GP or family doctor but it is important that you are seen by a psychiatrist before you are started on any medication if you suspect that you may have bipolar disorder. Many people tend to seek help for their bipolar after a depressive period which can prompt doctors to commence you on anti-depressants, however anti-depressants MUST be used with caution in people with bipolar disorder as it can induce manic and psychotic episodes. To aid your psychiatrist in your diagnosis it is advisable that you keep mood diaries for a period of time. This is so your psychiatrist can see patterns in your mood and how you behave during each episode. This is helpful because it will give your doctor an accurate summary of the severity of your symptoms, how you rate your mood and how your symptoms are impacting upon your daily life and also identifies any triggers that could be triggering your moods. They will also take a detailed history and may ask for a family history also as bipolar can run in families with a history of mental health problems.
Your doctor will usually discuss a range of treatment options with you but once you have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder the preferred choice of treatment is usually a mood stabiliser, or anti-psychotic medication that can also be used as a mood stabiliser and sometimes they will use combinations of different kinds of medications to try and stabilise your mood, ranging from mood stabilisers, anti-psychotics, anti-depressants and anxiolytics. This is usually dependent on your current symptoms and severity of them. Your psychiatrist may also suggest a course of therapy to assist you in recognising your symptoms, how to manage your thoughts and help you find productive ways to manage your illness. There are many different types of therapy so your psychiatrist/therapist will select an approach suitable for you.
It can often be a lengthy process in receiving a diagnosis of bipolar as your doctor will need to gain an accurate history of your mood cycles and the effect it has on your life. To aid your doctor in your assessment process it is usually helpful to keep a mood diary for a few weeks prior to your assessment and it is important that you maintain this mood diary even after you receive your diagnosis as it is extremely helpful for your doctors to see how you are managing in between appointments. It can also be beneficial to bring a family member or a close friend to your appointments because they are normally the people who pick up on your mood changes, how you behave and how it affects your life and can provide a history that you may not be able to.
Once you have received your diagnosis it is extremely important that you continue to attend your psychiatrist appointments, take your medications and attend any therapy sessions that you may need. Often people with bipolar disorder can stop taking their medication or stop going to their appointments when their treatment is working and keeping them stable or if they are developing mania. This can be very dangerous and can make you unwell very quickly. Your doctor will also stress how important self-management is in keeping you well, knowing your warning signs and creating a crisis plan just in case you become unwell. Compliance and good self-management are important in managing your bipolar disorder.
Involving your friends and family are also important as you will require a strong support network and they are often the first people to notice if you are becoming unwell so their support can be crucial in keeping you well and stable.
Bipolar Disorder Links and Resources
Here are a few links and resources that you may find useful when dealing with bipolar disorder:
Self-management is extremely important in keeping yourself well with bipolar disorder. Here are some useful links and resources that can aid you in your self-management:
Share Your Experiences!
Please feel free to share and discuss your experiences with Bipolar Disorder. You may find it beneficial to talk about how you are feeling with other people who will understand, and you may be helping others who have similar experiences to you. Join our community to find support and discuss coping strategies.