Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a complex mental health condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It is characterized by often extreme high and low shifts in mood, energy levels, and activity levels. In this article, we will explore the symptoms, causes, treatment options, and types of bipolar disorder to provide a comprehensive understanding of this condition.

Symptoms

The symptoms of bipolar disorder occur in two main phases. They are:

  • Manic Phase
    – Elevated or irritable mood
    – Increased energy and activity levels
    – Racing thoughts and rapid speech
    – Decreased need for sleep
    – Impulsive or risky behavior
    – Grandiose beliefs or inflated self-esteem
  • Depressive Phase:
    – Persistent sadness or emptiness
    – Fatigue or loss of energy
    – Changes in appetite and weight
    – Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
    – Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
    – Thoughts of death or suicide

Types

  • Bipolar I Disorder (Characterized by manic episodes lasting at least seven days or severe enough to require immediate medical attention)
  • Bipolar II Disorder (characterized by depressive episodes and hypomanic (less severe than full mania) episodes
  • Cyclothymic Disorder (A chronic pattern of mood swings that are less severe but more persistent, lasting for at least two years)
  • Other Specified and Unspecified Bipolar and Related Disorders (These include symptoms that do not fit precisely into the established categories)

Causes

  • Childhood trauma, trauma and highly stressful life events (e.g. abuse, loss, heartbreak, disaster)
  • Family history/Genetics (runs in the family / genetic factors / brain abnormalities)
  • Chronic illness
  • Substance abuse
  • Longterm stress
  • Side effects of some medications

Treatment

  • Psychotherapy
  • Medication (Mood stabilizers, antidepressants, antipsychotics)
  • Lifestyle & behavioral changes
  • Alternative therapies when medication has not worked (Electroconvulsive therapy, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, Vagus Nerve Stimulation, Ketamine infusion, etc.)

African Context

We often call people “bipolar” when they experience mood swings. However, as you have seen in the symptoms, people often remain in these mood states for significant periods of time. FYI it is also inappropriate to call anyone bipolar, especially since we don’t call people depression or cancer when they’ve been diagnosed with these. In our African context, we have a very limited understanding of bipolar disorder and often either seek only medical help, dismiss the severity of the diagnosis or blame evil spirits. None of these are helpful. So, if you or anyone you know is/may be struggling with bipolar disorder or any other mental health challenge, you can reach out to a professional here.

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