Understanding the Mind: Bipolar Disorder

Mental health is often a topic of public discourse, but do we really know what we are talking about? Within this series (“Understanding the Mind”), I aim to provide readers with an insight about what mental illness is. To find out more and for an introduction about what this series aims to do, read this post. To read all the posts in this series, click here.

The Ins And Outs of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression, is a mood disorder in which the person suffering with this disorder alternates between episodes of depression and elation (known as mania).

Some people also see or hear thing around them that others don’t (known as having visual or auditory hallucinations) or have uncommon and unshared beliefs (delusions).

It is estimated that around 1 percent of the population suffer from bipolar disorder at at least one point in their lives, with some people experiencing just once or two episodes of depression or mania and others experiencing many.

So, what causes Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is widely believed to be the result of chemical imbalances in the brain.

The illness often runs in families and it is also thought that the differences in people’s genetic make-up can make them more vulnerable to developing the disorder.

Each episode is generally evoked by a trigger which could range from an illness to a stressful life event and anything in between.

Seasonal factors also appear to play a role in triggering bipolar disorder, with the chance of developing it increasing in Spring due the the rapid increase in hours of bright sunshine. It is thought to trigger depression and mania by affecting the pineal gland.

Learning the Lingo: Types of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar I is characterised by mainly manic episodes with most people also experiencing depressive periods as well.

Bipolar II is characterised by severe depressive episodes that alternate with severe episodes of mania (hypomania).

Cyclothymic disorder is characterised by short periods of mild depression and short periods of hypomania.

Rapid cycling is four or more episodes a year of manic, hypomanic, depressive, or mixed episodes.

Mixed states are characterised periods of depression and mania at the same time.

Mania

Mania: a period of a week or more during which an individual feels abnormally good, high, excited, hyper or irritable.

Symptoms include:

  • Increased speech (often faster and louder than usual)
  • Increased energy/over activity
  • A reduced need for sleep
  • Being argumentative or aggressive
  • Loss of inhibitions
  • In severe cases, sufferers may develop psychotic symptoms such as delusions an hallucinations
  • Being more social than usual
  • Unrealistic sense of self-importance
10 Comics That Can Help You Understand Mental Illness
depression comix by Clay

Depression

Depression: severe, typically prolonged, feelings of despondency and dejection.

Symptoms include:

  • Feelings of unhappiness that do not go away.
  • Finding it hard to make even simple decisions.
  • Change of appetite.
  • Weight loss or gain.
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much.
  • Being fidgety or restless.
  • Tiredness and loss of energy.
  • Excessive feelings of worthlessness or guilt.
  • Being unable to see a positive future.
  • Having trouble thinking or concentrating.
  • Finding it harder to be with people.
  • Having thoughts that one would be better off dead or thoughts about hurting oneself.

If you or an individual you know may suffer from bipolar disorder, contacting your physician or seeking medical help would be highly beneficial to recovery. Medication may possibly be prescribed and you may need help in recognising what triggers your episodes and how to avoid those triggers.

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