Bipolar disorder is an illness of mood that has periods of both depression and mania (great excitement, fantasies and overactivity), as well as periods of stable mood. Bipolar disorder can affect people from all walks of life. Studies show that around 4 per cent of people may develop some form of bipolar disorder over their lifetime and that people with a family history of bipolar illness may be at a higher risk.
What are the symptoms of bipolar disorder?
Symptoms that may indicate a clinical depression include: feeling sad, down, or depressed, decreased interest in enjoyable activity, changes to sleep/appetite/activity, low energy/concentration/motivation and in its worst form, suicidal thoughts and actions. When these symptoms interfere with daily life over a two week or longer period, we consider the diagnosis of clinical depression.
Mania occurs when someone has a period where they feel ‘high’ or ‘ecstatic’ or extremely irritable. At the same time, they sleep less, have much more energy, are more talkative, and appear distracted and ‘sped up.’ In a manic episode, people often engage in activities that can be dangerous or reckless (e.g. gambling, driving too fast, excess spending, reckless use of alcohol and/or drug use). Manic episodes do not occur over one or two days, but instead often last weeks or months if untreated.
Mixed episodes can also occur where individuals have both depressive and manic symptoms at the same time.
How is it treated?
Bipolar disorder often responds best to a variety of different treatments including medication, talk therapy, family and community support and self-care.
The use of mood stabilizing medications is the main form of treatment and can help both during the acute illness and also in maintenance to help prevent relapse. Some require a combination of medicines to stay healthy.
Other treatments that can be helpful depending on specific symptoms include: connection and support from a mental health team, support groups, talk therapy including cognitive behavioural therapy, vocational therapy and counselling.
Self-care (e.g. eating a balanced diet, sleeping well at night, regular exercise, socialization and abstinence from alcohol and drugs) is also an important step in staying healthy. Support from family and friends can also be an important part of treatment.
What should I do to get help?
If you or a friend or family member is suffering with symptoms of bipolar disorder, it is important to see your family doctor or speak with a mental health professional available through the Mental Health and Substance Use Centre in your community. Early diagnosis and treatment in bipolar disorder is very important, so seeking help as soon as symptoms arise is important.
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