Bipolar Disorder – The Highs and The Lows

It is often the case that we cannot differentiate between normal and extreme behavior. It’s easy to brush off something as trivial as a mood swing because our lives are tough enough on us already. But when it becomes a recurring feature in our lives, it’s time to take a step back and reconsider what it might be.

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterized by erratic and unusual mood swings ranging from euphoric highs to suicidal lows. Its symptoms sometimes passed off as eccentricities, the disorder affects around 1-3 people in 100 over their lifetimes. Around 60 million people around the world suffer from this illness, with 10 million in India alone. With such a high rate of incidence, we need to understand this oft misunderstood illness.

Bipolar mania is the phase when a person with the the disorder feels overly excited and confident, with a lot of people even experiencing hallucinations during this period.

Bipolar depression refers to when the person is in a depressed mood, and the symptoms are very similar to those of clinical depression. Most people diagnosed with bipolar disorder spend more time with depressive symptoms than the manic ones.

Because these wild mood swings don’t have a set pattern, it leads people to think that it’s just a result of stress or other common factors, leading them to seek alcohol and drugs as a coping mechanism. However this ends up compounding the problem and makes diagnosing and treating the disorder an increasingly tougher exercise.

Genes, stress, and brain changes can all play a significant role in causing Bipolar Disorder. Recognizing the person’s symptoms and determining if they are the result of another problem (such as low thyroid, or mood symptoms caused by drug or alcohol abuse) can help in diagnosing the disorder correctly. The most telling symptoms are those that involve highs or lows in mood, along with changes in sleep patterns, energy levels, thinking ability, and behavior.

Medication is the main course of treatment, usually involving ‘mood stabilizers’ and anti-depressants. Psychotherapy, or ‘talk therapy’, is another successful method of treatment. A therapist will help a patient deal with moods shifts and feelings, and help establish a behavioral routine — which is an important step to dealing with the disorder. People who have had four or more mood episodes in a year, or who have also had problems with excessive drug or alcohol use can have forms of the illness that are much harder to treat. Some people with bipolar disorder become suicidal, so it’s vital to seek immediate medical help for them. As with depression, it helps if you are well informed about how to talk to a person with suicidal tendencies.

Bipolar Disorder is hard to understand, it’s something that can’t be pinned down immediately. But with 1-3 people in 100 affected by it over their lifetimes, we need to recognize the legitimacy of this illness, and more importantly, to understand that while it’s non curable, it’s highly treatable. And to the people suffering from Bipolar, we at MTTN say this: never lose hope, and try seeking professional help, they’re the first step on your road to getting better, which we’re hoping you surely will!

-Shravani Vyakarnam for MTTN

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