Bipolar Disorder is a condition that causes severe mood swings lasting several weeks or months. There are low or ‘depressive’ moods with feelings of intense depression or despair, high or ‘manic’ moods with feelings of elation and happiness or a mix of the two. There are different classifications of bipolar depending on the number and length of these mood swings.
Bipolar does run in families suggesting genes are in some way a factor in its development, there may also be a physical problem with the brain or episodes can be triggered by stress or physical illness.
Depression is experienced by everyone from time to time but with clinical depression or bipolar depression, the feelings last longer and make it impossible to deal with everyday life. Sufferers may have some of these symptoms: low mood, loss of energy, loss of enjoyment or feeling pleasure, altered appetite, disrupted sleep, poor concentration and motivation, a loss of libido, a negative outlook and in some cases thoughts and ideas of suicide.
The symptoms of mania are extreme happiness and excitement, being full of energy and moving from one thing to another quickly, talking very quickly, making snap decisions sometimes with serious consequences or being recklessly critical of other people.
Treatment usually occurs in the form of mood stabilising medication such as Lithium. It can take several months for medication to work properly so you will need to continue taking tablets even if mood swings continue during the first few months of treatment.
Between episodes of mania or depression, it may be helpful to undertake some psychological treatment such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for the depression or psychotherapy to help you learn to monitor your mood and learn strategies for helping you stop severe episodes.