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What is Bipolar Disorder?

4th October 2017 By Sophie Knight

bipolar-disorder

Bipolar Disorder (BD or Bipolar) was formerly referred to as ‘manic depression’. Bipolar disorder is a condition that heavily affects the mood of a person, typically swinging from one extreme mood to another.

The extremes experienced by people with bipolar disorder can be categorised into periods of:

  • Depression – feeling extremely low, fatigued and constantly lethargic.
  • Mania – this refers to feeling very high and particularly overactive (less severe cases of mania are known as hypomania)

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

As mentioned, bipolar disorder is characterised by the extreme mood swings which can range from extreme highs (mania) and extreme lows (depression).

The episodes of both mania and depression typically last for several weeks or months at a time.

Depression

The symptoms associated with the periods of depression that a person with bipolar disorder may experience are:

  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Feeling sad
  • Being irritable for the majority of the day
  • Fatigue and lacking energy
  • Difficulty concentrating on tasks or conversations
  • Appearing forgetful and feeling like they are having trouble remembering things, even very simple things
  • Loss of interest in everyday thing and activities that the person once took pleasure in
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feelings of emptiness and not feeling worth anyone’s time (worthlessness)
  • Feeling guilty and despairing
  • Self-doubt and feeling pessimistic about everything and anything
  • Having delusions – hallucinations with disturbed or illogical thinking
  • Difficulty with sleeping and insomnia
  • Waking up very early
  • Suicidal thoughts and feelings

 Mania

The manic period experienced by a person with bipolar can include symptoms such as:

  • Feelings of extreme happiness, being elated or overjoyed
  • Talking extremely quickly
  • Feeling very energised
  • Feeling self-important
  • Bursting with great new ideas and having important plans
  • Being easily distracted
  • Not wanting to sleep or feeling tired
  • Not wanting to eat or feeling particularly hungry
  • Having delusions – hallucinating with disturbed or illogical thinking
  • Small things triggering feelings of irritation
  • Being agitated
  • Doing destructive things which have bad consequences – for example, purchasing expensive items without having the money to pay for it.
  • Saying things and making decisions that seem out of character, and that could be considered risky or harmful by others

The patterns or depression and mania

It may be the case that a person with bipolar disorder experiences more episodes of depression than of mania, or of mania than of depression – each case is individual.

Between periods of either depression and mania, a person may experience “normal” moods where they are not particularly or ever effected by either extreme.

The patterns are not always the same and some people may find they experience:

  • Rapid cycling.

This is where a person who suffers from bipolar disorder repeatedly swings from a low to a high phase, a high to a low phase, quickly without factoring a “normal” period in in-between the episodes.

  • Mixed state

This is where a person with bipolar disorder experiences a mixtures of the symptoms of depression and mania together. This could be, for example, over activity and also feelings of hopelessness.

It is the case that if someone experiences mood swings that are lasting for a long time but are not severe enough to be classed as bipolar disorder, then they be diagnosed with what called “cyclothymia”. This is a mild form of bipolar disorder.

Causes of bipolar disorder

Experts believe that there are a number of factors that can manifest to make a person more likely to develop the disorder, however the exact cause is not yet known. These factors are all attributed to a mix of physical, environmental and social factors.

Chemical imbalance in the brain

It is widely believed that bipolar disorder is a direct result of a chemical imbalance in the brain. According to the NHS “The chemicals responsible for controlling the brain’s functions are called neurotransmitters and include noradrenaline, serotonin and dopamine.”

There is some evidence to suggest that if there is an imbalance in the levels of even just one neurotransmitter, a person can consequently develop signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder.

For instance, there is  evidence that episodes of mania may happen when levels of noradrenaline are too high in the brain, and periods of depression may be the result of noradrenaline levels becoming too low in the brain.

Genetics

It is believed by medical professionals that bipolar disorder can be linked to genetics, as the condition appears to run in families. Those related to a person with the condition have an increased risk of developing it for themselves.

However, it is also commonly believed that there is no single gene that is responsible for bipolar disorder. In its place, a number of genetic and environmental factors are thought to act as triggers.

Triggers

A stressful time or situation can be said to be one of the triggers for the symptoms of bipolar disorder. Examples of this include:

  • the breakdown of a relationship; romantically, friendship wise or a family relationship
  • physical, sexual or emotional types of abuse
  • the death of a close family member or loved ones

It is true that these types of life-altering times can cause periods of depression at any time in a person’s life.

Bipolar disorder may also be triggered by things such as:

  • physical illness
  • sleep disturbances
  • tremendous problems in everyday life – such as problems with money, work or personal relationships

 

Mental health treatment can potentially be covered by a health cash plan, that allows you to get up to 6 times what you pay e.g £100 in cover equals £600 towards appointments and smaller treatments.