We probably watched movies or drama showing the character being too happy and then the next few moments suddenly feeling very sad. In our everyday life, we might recognize this character exists among our loved ones or even in yourself. What is life without the feeling ‘up and down’, right? However, for a person with bipolar dsisorder, the ‘up and down’ are too extreme and not just a typical mood swing. This person will experience cycles or episodes that could last from a few weeks to long months.
Bipolar disorder is defined as a mood disorder characterised by extreme mood swings ranging from extreme low feeling or depression till extreme high feeling or mania. It is important to recognize symptoms if bipolar disorder as early treatment and management can help decrease the likelihood of suicidal tendencies and progressing with psychotic symptoms (a condition where thoughts and perceptions is disturbed causing someone to have hard time identifying what is real or the opposite) such as hallucination, illusions and delusions. Since bipolar means two poles, the bipolar disorder involves both symptoms of depression and mania occurring at the same time or alternating episodes of mood disorders which an episode lasts for a few days or weeks.
Symptoms during manic episodes:
- feeling very “high”, “up”, “alive”, overjoyed or elated
- less need for sleep or not sleeping at all
- feeling fully energetic
- excessive appetite for food and drinks
- talking very quickly about a lot of different things
- having racing thoughts, full of great new ideas and having important plans
- assuming themselves can do everything at once
- spontaneous risky acts such as excessive drinking alcohol, spending a fortune even it for an unaffordable item or too expensive and having unsafe reckless sex
- feeling as if they are the most important or powerful person
Symptoms during depressive episodes:
- feeling very low, sad, hopeless, empty or irritable
- feeling self-worthlessness
- constant feeling of guilty
- constant negative thoughts and feeling about everything
- feeling very tired or easily tired
- feeling restless
- lose interest in activities they used to enjoy
- unable to feel pleasure from any activity
- loss of appetite
- having hard time falling asleep or waking up very early
- excessive sleeping even in daytime
- trouble to focus or making decisions even for simple matter
- simple task seems a big burden
- suicidal thoughts or ideation
Between episodes of depression and mania, a person may or may not have a period of “normal” mood. A person with quickly repeated mood swings without the “normal” period in between is called rapid cycling while a person with episodes of depression and mania occurring together is called mixed state. A person with mood swings lasting for a long time but not severe to be diagnosed as bipolar disorder is called cyclothymia.
Current treatment consists of medicine and psychological aid. Psychiatrists will prescribe mood stabilisers to help ease the symptoms. Psychological treatment such as psychoeducation and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help patients to understand what they are going through and provide insights on how to improve their life living with this severe mood disorder.
As mentioned earlier, bipolar disorder is much more than just mood swings. When left untreated, it can cause significant disturbance to the patient’s life. Thus, it is important for those around the patients to understand that the patient themselves might not be unaware that they are having a bipolar disorder. Patients might also believe people around them are being pessimist towards them. This perception might add more distress to the patients and worsening of symptoms. Sadly, these extreme mood swings can cost patients to lose their job and unintentional problems in relationships with everyone around. Hence, patients need to be supported mentally and emotionally especially by people close to them with affection and no judgement.