A staggering estimated 51 million adults worldwide suffer from bipolar disorder. China is home to the most bipolar sufferers with 12 million cases compared to Britain’s measly 250,000 patients. Still, bipolar disorders cost the U.K. an estimated £342 million worth of healthcare based on 2009-2010 prices.
In men, this mental disease is prevalent in early adulthood between the ages of 15 and 25 while women often exhibit the symptoms at the later ages between 25 and 30. Somehow, it is rarely found in children less than 10 years of age or in adults over 40 years of age.
What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar Disorder is a mental illness characterized by alternating manic-depressive emotional states. Bipolarity is symptomised by extreme shifts in mood, energy, behaviour, and way of thinking. Normal emotional shifts are usually fleeting and do not generally cause major life disruptions. With bipolar illness, the severe ups and downs in emotions and consequent behaviour negatively impact careers, relationships, personal lives, and school performance.
A person with bipolar illness may feel intensely excited, euphoric, and have the delusion of being able to take on the world for a couple of days or months. These super high moods inadvertently come crashing down in time to a particularly low state of despair, hopelessness, depression, and lack of motivation.
Hypomania, the Manic Episodes
Hypomania is somewhat akin to a drug user’s “high” phase in which an individual feels unrealistically powerful, confident, and so energetic that even his sleeping patterns suffer disruptions. The person in a manic state may feel invincible and behave in ways he would normally avoid. He may splurge and acquire credit card debts, quit his job on impulse, speak volubly about grandiose schemes, be sexually promiscuous, and engage in other high-risk behaviours while being on this temporary emotional high.
It is not easy to spot bipolarity in hypomanic people as these types seem so elated, positive, and generally happy. People in this state hardly believe they can be ill of something much less run to doctors for their happy condition. When the dire consequences of their extreme decisions come crashing down, hypomanic people transition fast into a depressed state in which living day-to-day become a big struggle.
The Depressive State
Coming down hard from an all-time high is one of the worst states a person with a bipolar disorder can find himself in. It is this stage in which feelings of hopelessness, self-doubt, self-loathing, despair, and lethargy assault the individual. He begins to struggle holding down a job; maintaining rapport with colleagues, friends, and family members; dealing with consequences of financial decisions; and the like. Unfortunately, this negative state lasts longer, time making it all the more dangerous for the entertainment of serious thoughts on self-harm and suicide.
Nature of the Mood Swings
The patterns of mood swings vary greatly among bipolar patients. Some go from mania to depression in a matter of days. Others may go for years without experiencing problems.
Often, most bipolar sufferers stay in the depressive phase more than in their manic state. Some mania may be so mild that the condition can go unnoticed.
There is also such a thing as a mixed episode. This is characterized by a combination of hypomania and depression, or high energy and low moods. A bipolar sufferer in the middle of a mixed episode may be energized and distracted by rapid, changing thoughts while exhibiting anxiety, irritability, and restlessness. This combination mode is particularly lethal as this episode poses a high risk of suicide.
Extreme mood swings affect other parts of a person’s life such as memory, concentration, energy level, judgement, sleep patterns, sex drive, confidence, and motivation. Bipolar disorder has also been linked to other health issues such as substance abuse, alcoholism, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
What Causes Bipolar Disorder?
There is no single cause to this mental illness; although, genes play a big part in it. Not everyone however with an inherited risk develop the illness. Other factors that accompany heredity may trigger the onset of the disorder:
• Stress — sudden life-changing events, whether these are good or bad
• Medication — Some antidepressant drugs, corticosteroids, thyroid medicines, appetite suppressants, and even OTC cold medications may trigger bipolar disorder.
• Substance abuse — Although substance abuse does not cause bipolarization, it may act as an episodic trigger. Alcohol, caffeine, and tranquilizers can kick-start the depressive state while uppers such as amphetamines and ecstasy can trigger mania.
• Insomnia — Lack of sleep can cause a manic episode.
• Seasons — Summer brings out the mania while winter, spring, and autumn make for the low moods.
A bipolar disorder left untreated only exacerbates the problem leading to dire consequences. Bipolar illness can have fatal consequences with the sufferer usually turning to suicide as a way out.
Treatment for the mental illness is a long drawn out affair but one well worth the effort. Since the disorder is chronic, relapses are to be expected so continuance of treatment is still necessary even when the person feels better.
Being a complex disorder, bipolarity needs to be handled by an experienced psychiatrist. Diagnosis is not simple and planning out a treatment strategy is best left with a mental health professional. For one, drug prescriptions need to be closely monitored.
Psychiatric treatment may follow a manifold approach involving a combination of drugs, psychotherapy, lifestyle changes, and social support.
Bear in mind that bipolar disorder is a treatable illness which one can learn to live with. There is no cure for it but people who undergo professional treatment do have the promise of living normal lives, even ones with successful careers and happy family and friend relationships.