Bipolar Disorder

Understanding and Treating Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a serious medical condition that is characterized by dramatic mood swings. Because of this characteristic, it is also often referred to as manic depression or manic depressive disorder. It is an illness that can persist throughout a person's lifetime. However, symptoms usually become apparent between the ages of 15 to 24.

Symptoms

Studies have indicated that there is a higher prevalence of bipolar disorder in people that are highly creative and sensitive and who aim to be perfectionists and over achievers.

Bipolar symptoms are characterized by periods of mania which can be exhibited by

  • Little need for sleep and difficulty concentrating
  • Reckless behaviour and lack of self control (such as binge eating and promiscuity)
  • Very elevated moods which can be accompanied by hyperactivity, increased energy, racing thoughts and periods of very high self esteem

Bipolar symptoms are also characterized by periods of clinical depression which can be exhibited by

  • Long periods of sadness or a prolonged deterioration in one's mood
  • Fatigue or lack of energy
  • Loss of self esteem and thoughts of death or suicide

Bipolar differs from clinical depression because it is also accompanied by periods of mania. A person suffering from bipolar disorder can see a very dramatic shift between mania and depression.

Treating bipolar disorder

Although there is no cure for bipolar disorder, someone suffering from this illness can take medications to stabilize their mood swings. Lithium is one of the most common types of medication for manic depression. It has been found to be an effective way to control symptoms of mania while preventing the recurrence of depressive episodes. Valproic acid is another type of medication that has been found to be an effective alternative to lithium. However, it may not be an appropriate substitute for teenage girls since it is believed to increase levels of testosterone.

In addition to medication, it is also believed that maintaining a healthy lifestyle is important to control rapid mood swings. This includes exercising regularly and getting enough sleep each night. Rest has been shown to be important for people suffering from bipolar disorder because a lack of sleep can often trigger a manic episode.

In addition, it is helpful to attend either individual or group therapy. Discussing your problems with people who understand the illness is a good way to both gain acceptance and learn to manage the disorder.