Bipolar disorder used to be known as “manic depression”. Bipolar disorder is characterised by severe mood swings ranging fro depressive type moods (feeling low and lethargic) to mania (manic episode) or being excessively energetic with a mind racing with thoughts and ideas.
Types of Bipolar Disorder:
- There has been at least one high or manic episode, which has lasted for longer than one week.
- Some people with Bipolar I will have only manic episodes, although most will also have periods of depression.
- Untreated, manic episodes generally last 3 to 6 months.
- Depressive episodes last rather longer – 6 to 12 months without treatment.
- There has been more than one episode of severe depression, but only mild manic episodes â€“ these are called â€˜hypomaniaâ€™.
- More than four mood swings happen in a 12 month period. This affects around 1 in 10 people with bipolar disorder, and can happen with both types I and II.
- The mood swings are not as severe as those in full bipolar disorder, but can be longer. This can develop into full bipolar disorder.
What do the two extreme moods feel like?
A loss of interest in things you used to find enjoyable and a sense of futility about the future. Withdrawing from others and spending time sleeping too much or avoiding social activities is also common.
Mania is an extreme sense of well-being, energy and optimism. It can be so intense that it affects your thinking and judgement. You may believe strange things about yourself, make bad decisions, and behave in embarrassing, harmful and – occasionally – dangerous ways.
Like depression, it can make it difficult or impossible to deal with life in an effective way. A period of mania can affect both relationships and work.
Treatment often involves taking prescribed Lithium although there are other alternatives.
In between episodes of mania or depression, psychological treatments can be helpful. Treatment usually involvesÂ around 16 one-hour sessions over a period of 6 to 9 months.
Psychological treatment should include:
- psychoeducation â€“ finding out more about bipolar disorder
- mood monitoring â€“ helps you to pick up when your mood is swinging
- mood strategies â€“ to help you stop your mood swinging into a full-blown manic or depressive episode
- help to develop general coping skills
- cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for depression.
If your symptoms are not too severe you could try to manage the symptoms yourself by being aware of your mood, perhaps rating it regularly from 0-10 to keep an eye on how you are feeling and what might be triggering your moods. Manage stress and you might avoid mood swings. Take regular exercise, talk to others and perhaps even attend a support group. Never give up hope and take each day as it comes if you feel you are struggling. There is always help out there.
Recommended reading – further information:
- An unquiet mindÂ by Kay Redfield Jamison.
- Loving someone with bipolar disorder: understanding and helping your partner by Julia A Fast and John Preston.