Bipolar disorder is a mental health disorder that was previously called manic depressive psychosis or manic depression. The condition is typically characterized by a mood that "swings" from a depressive state where an individual may feel down and lethargic to a manic phase that may cause them to feel hyperactive and jittery.
In a healthy individual, mood swings are usually transient, lasting for a few hours or a day. However, in the case of bipolar disorder, moods may last for weeks or months at a time with a normal mood being the exception.
Symptoms of bipolar disorder
The depressive phase
It is often the depressive phase that helps identify a person with bipolar disorder. Most patients are initially diagnosed with depression and treatment is begun before the manic phase manifests. Depression is typically characterized by feelings of worthlessness, sorrow, unhappiness, inability to sleep, loss of appetite and lack of interest in hobbies and daily activities. Suicidal tendencies are also common.
The manic phase
Manic phase is typically characterized by feelings of excessive happiness, grand and ambitious planning, enhanced creativity, talking loudly, overspending of money, and an inability to sleep or eat due to excitement. Psychosis may also feature, with the patient experiencing hallucinations or delusions.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Individuals are evaluated for bipolar disorder using psychological tests and a detailed examination of their symptom history. Treatment is focused on controlling the exacerbation and severity of manic and depressive symptoms. Usually, a combination of approaches is used to control the condition, which may include:
Medications such as mood stabilzers, antidepressants, and antipsychotics. The mood stabilizer lithium helps prevent episodes of mania and depression. Antidepressantshelp to control depression and prevent suicidal thoughts, while antipsychotics can reduce psychosis.
Psychotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy and counselling help the patient to cope with depression and provide advice about how to lead a life that is as normal as possible.
Lifestyle modifications include regular exercise, eating a healthy, balanced diet, reducing caffeine and alcohol intake, and the cessation of smoking or any substance abuse.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc