Bipolar disorder, previously known and manic depression, is a mood disorder that is thought to effect about 1% of the UK population.
Typically, the onset of Bipolar disorder is at around 15-19 years, although some may develop it later on.
What are the symptoms of bipolar disorder?
The symptoms of Bipolar disorder are mood related, and range from feeling high (manic) and very low (depressed).
In the manic phases, you can feel euphoric, have a great sense of wellbeing, have racing thoughts, a feeling of being invincible or special and have increased sexual energy. A manic phase can last for a week or longer and during that time you may end up losing your social inhibitions, take serious risks with your safety and take on big projects with extensive time and financial commitments.
During a manic phase, you may also experience psychotic symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations. In a manic phase, your daily life is likely to be significantly disrupted and at the severe end, you may need hospitalisation. A lower threshold of mania, called hypomania, may also be experienced which is typical in Bipolar II disorder. This phase generally lasts less than a week and the symptoms are similar to those of mania, but to a lesser degree and without the psychotic features. Hypomanic phases can also be disruptive and there will be a noticeable change in your behaviour, but normally you can still continue your daily routine.
The other side of Bipolar disorder is the depressed phase. In this phase, you can experience a lower self-esteem and lack self confidence.
You can feel hopeless, tearful and agitated, and sometimes feel suicidal. Often the depressed phase can feel harder to deal with than the manic phases, and the contrast between the two can make the depressed phase feel much worse.
There are three types of Bipolar disorder: Bipolar I, which is where you experience more manic episodes, Bipolar II, which is where you experience more depressive episodes and experience hypomania, and Cyclothymia which is where you experience both manic and depressive episodes, but at a lower threshold than you would if you had Bipolar I or II.
How to manage bipolar disorder
When given a diagnosis of Bipolar disorder, it is important to take some time to notice how you feel about it. Some people will reach with relief as it will give context and understanding to the difficult mood swings.
For others, the diagnosis can be hard to accept and indeed they might not agree with it. However you feel about the diagnosis, it is best to get informed about what the disorder means, how it can be managed, and to get some support.
Medication will often be offered in the treatment of Bipolar disorder to manage the depressive episodes, keep your moods stable and sometimes antipsychotics will be needed during manic phases. In addition to medication, psychotherapy can provide a very good way of coping with Bipolar disorder. It can help you gain insight into the triggers, and the warning signs that you are entering a manic or depressed phase and help you to deal with the complex and often painful emotions that can accompany them.
The supportive therapeutic environment can enable you to process and make sense of what you are feeling and to understand the affect it is having on you and those around you.
Dr Simon Cassar is an integrative existential therapist, trained in Person Centred Therapy, Psychodynamic Therapy, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT), and Existential Psychotherapy. He sees clients from our Hove and Lewes practices.