Bipolar Disorder is a mental health problem that mainly affects a person’s mood. If an individual has Bipolar Disorder, they are likely to have times where they experience; Manic or hypomanic episodes (which means feeling high), or Depressive episodes (which means feeling low). They can also potentially experience some psychotic symptoms (like hallucinations or delusions) during manic or depressive episodes. These swings in mood are sometimes called mood episodes or mood states. Not everyone experiences mood episodes in the same way or for the same amount of time.
We all have changes in our mood, but in Bipolar Disorder, these changes can feel very distressing and can have a big impact on a person’s life. An individual may feel high and low moods that are extreme, and endure swings in their mood, which are overwhelming. A person may feel and behave very differently, depending on their mood. This can be very difficult and confusing for someone.
What does Bipolar mean?
The word Bipolar is built up from two parts:
- Bi meaning 'two'
- Polar meaning 'completely opposite'
The term Bipolar refers to the way a person’s mood can change between two very different states – mania and depression. In the past, people used to refer to Bipolar Disorder as Manic Depression. You might still hear people use this older term today. However, both terms can lead to misunderstanding. People can think it means only having mood swings between severe mania and depression. Nevertheless, Bipolar Disorder is much more complex than this.
Mood episodes can range from severe depression to mania, and anything in between. Sometimes a person’s episodes may feel intense, and other times they may feel stable. A person may never experience certain mood episodes. For example, not everyone with Bipolar Disorder will experience mania.
Some healthcare professionals may also use the term Bipolar Affective Disorder. 'Affective' means that the Disorder relates to mood or emotions.
Bipolar Disorder– Misunderstood?
The TV, the media and Hollywood, often paint a distorted view of people who are diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, in fact it is a fairly common mental illness that affects 1 in 100 people in their lifetime, yet the condition is still widely misunderstood. Common misconceptions include that people who suffer with Bipolar Disorder; that they are all some kind of genius, or that they are completely “crazy” and should be locked up. These incorrect views can often lead to discrimination and stigma for many individuals.
This misinformation in the media about Bipolar Disorder is often over sensationalised and extremely misleading. We can all play our part to reduce this, by learning about Bipolar Disorder and helping to dispel these myths, doing this can help to reduce the stigma and discrimination faced by many individuals.
Bipolar Moods and Symptoms
Manic and hypomanic episodes – or mania and hypomania – both mean feeling high. Manic and hypomanic episodes have similarities in how they may make a person feel or act. There are some key differences though:
- Severe mania is very serious and often requires hospital treatment. Hypomania can noticeably change your mood or behaviour, but it is less severe than mania.
- Manic episodes can impact a person’s ability to do daily activities – often disrupting or completely stopping them. Hypomanic episodes can disrupt an individuals life, but they may still feel able to work or socialise.
- Length of episode: For a mood episode to be classed as mania, it needs to last for a week or more. For hypomania, it needs to last for 4 days or more. Both manic and hypomanic episodes can last much longer than this.
- Types of symptoms: A person may be more likely to experience severe symptoms with mania, such as more extreme risk-taking behaviours. Manic episodes can sometimes include psychotic symptoms, like hallucinations or delusions. Hypomanic episodes never include these.
Feelings - During a manic or hypomanic episode, an individual might feel:
- Happy, joyful or a sense of wellbeing
- Very excited or uncontrollably excited
- Like they can't get their words out fast enough
- Irritable or agitated
- Increased sexual energy
- Easily distracted – their thoughts are racing or can't concentrate
- Confident or adventurous
- Like they are untouchable or can't be harmed (more likely in mania)
- Like they can perform physical and mental tasks better than normal
- Like they need less sleep than usual
- Very focused or determined to complete certain tasks or projects
Behaviours - During a manic or hypomanic episode, a person might:
- Be more active than usual
- Talk a lot, speak very quickly, or not make sense to other people
- Be very friendly to others
- Say or do things that are inappropriate and out of character
- Sleep very little or not at all
- Act rudely or aggressively
- Misuse drugs or alcohol
- Spend money excessively or in a way that is unusual for them
- Lose social inhibitions
- Take risks with safety
What will can it feel like afterwards?
After a manic or hypomanic episode, a person might:
- Feel very unhappy or ashamed about how they behaved
- Have made commitments or taken on responsibilities that now feel unmanageable
- Have only a few clear memories of what happened during an episode, or none at all
- Feel very tired and need a lot of sleep and rest
Depressive episodes are periods of feeling low. They last at least two weeks but can last much longer, sometimes for months. Like manic or hypomanic episodes, they can severely disrupt a person’s everyday life. Severe depression may require medication or a stay in hospital.
Some people find that depressive episodes can feel harder to deal with than manic or hypomanic episodes. The contrast between high and low moods may make an individual’s depression seem even deeper.
Feelings - During a depressive episode, a person might feel:
- Down, upset or tearful
- Tired or sluggish
- Uninterested in things they usually enjoy
- Low self-esteem and a lack of confidence
- Guilty, worthless or hopeless
- Agitated and tense
- Like they can't concentrate on anything
Behaviours - During a depressive episode, an individual might:
- Not do things they normally enjoy
- Have trouble sleeping, or sleep too much
- Eat too little or too much
- Misuse drugs or alcohol
- Act withdrawn or avoid social situations
- Spend a lot of time thinking about upsetting or difficult things (also called rumination)
- Avoid contacting or responding to people
- Be less physically active than usual
- Try to self-harm or attempt suicide
What Causes Bipolar Disorder?
No one knows exactly what causes bipolar Disorder. Research suggests that a combination of factors could increase an individual’s chance of developing it. This includes physical, environmental and social conditions, some possible causes are listed below:
- Childhood trauma
- Stressful life events
- Brain chemistry
- Family links
- Medication, drugs and alcohol
Diagnosis & Support
Diagnosing Bipolar Disorder is complicated condition – there is no straightforward easy way to test for it. If you or someone you know are experiencing symptoms, it is a good idea to start by talking to a doctor. They may refer a person to a mental health specialist, who can assess them by asking questions; only a mental health professional like a psychiatrist can give a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder. If an individual does get diagnosed with Bipolar, they may be prescribed mediation and/or referred to support groups, for talking therapies such as counselling and CBT.
For Further Support
Self-care can play an important part to helping to manage or improve mental wellbeing, such as having a healthy diet, exercising, practicing good sleep hygiene, managing stress levels and practicing relaxing techniques such as mindfulness.
For further mental wellbeing support including various, therapeutic activities and emotional resilience classes, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Darlington Mind also has a variety of other services which may be of interest to you and to assist with your needs, please contact us via the following options:
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or Tel: 01325 283169 Mobile: 07572 888084
Article Information based on information from Mind: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/bipolar-disorder/about-bipolar-disorder/