Around 1% of the population suffer from Bipolar Disorder (formerly known as Manic Depression). It is a mood disorder which is characterised by the person affected experiencing the lows of depression and the highs of mania, which can take the form of anxiety/agitation or exhilaration. Everyone experiences changes in mood, but in Bipolar Disorder these changes are extreme.
Bipolar Disorder typically develops in late adolescence or early adulthood, although the symptoms are often not recognised as an illness and can go undiagnosed for many years.
The cycles between depression and mania, often with periods of normal mood in between, are different in every person.
Some people will suffer from a number of episodes at a point in their life then not suffer any more and some people experience many frequent episodes throughout their lifetime.
As with any mental illness, the episodes are as individual as the people who have them.
There are two main types of Bipolar Disorder:
The classic form of the illness where there are recurrent episodes of mania and depression but it is mainly characterised by the manic episodes, which can include psychotic symptoms. Generally the mania is followed by a period of depression but some Bipolar I individuals may not experience a major depressive episode.
Characterised by longer lasting major depressive episodes alternating with episodes of hypomania, where the person is mildly manic or high. These manic episodes are often less disruptive than full mania, mainly showing as increased energy or a more elated mood.
Other types of Bipolar Disorder:
Characterised by a rapidly fluctuating mood from depression to mania with little or no period of stability in between.
Mixed Bipolar State
Characterised by the person experiencing symptoms or depression and mania at the same time. Symptoms of a mixed state can include trouble sleeping, agitation, psychosis and suicidal thinking. Someone with a mixed bipolar state may have a sad, hopeless mood while feeling extremely energised at the same time.
A less severe form of Bipolar Disorder; often characterised by short periods of hypomania and depressive symptoms separated by periods of stability.
Treatment Options for Bipolar Disorder
There are two main types of treatment for Bipolar Disorder - medications and psychosocial therapies.
There are a number of different medications available for the treatment of Bipolar Disorder. Mood stabilisers can help to reduce manic and depressive episodes and are usually taken continuously. People with Bipolar Disorder could also be prescribed a combination of medications, which may include anti-depressants (primarily during a phase of depression), anti-psychotics (during a manic phase) and mood stabilisers.
Psychosocial therapies are helpful in providing support, information and guidance to people with Bipolar Disorder. These can include CBT - which is particularly useful during the depressive episodes; psycho-education - which involves teaching people with Bipolar about the illness, its treatment and how to recognise triggers which might cause relapse so that early intervention can be sought before a full episode occurs; and family therapy—which educates family members on spotting the symptoms of a Bipolar episode and works on reducing stress contributing to or resulting from the individual’s illness.
Long-term preventative treatments are strongly recommended for Bipolar Disorder, particularly since it is a recurrent illness.
It has also been shown that other types of support, such as: mental health self-help support groups; bipolar specific support groups and social support are highly beneficial.