Bipolar Disorder involves the individual alternating between episodes of depression and mania. During depressive episodes symptoms can be severe with intense feelings of low mood, worthlessness and guilt. During manic episodes the individual may feel overactive, intensely high or elated. This elevated mood is out of proportion to the circumstances the individual currently finds themselves in.
Manic and depressive episodes may vary in length and severity from days, to weeks to months. Manic episodes may end abruptly with the onset of depression, and people may even experience periods of stability between mood swings.
Bipolar disorder is considered to have a strong biological cause, though causes are not fully understood. Genetic predisposition to develop the illness has been established. However, like all mental health problems, psychological and social stresses contribute to the development of this condition. Stress, physical illness or emotional crises can trigger mood swings in people who are vulnerable.
Bipolar disorder occurs in approximately 2% of the population. It is typically diagnosed when people are in their early to late twenties, and affects men and women equally. Most will experience an episode that will probably require hospital care.
During depressive episodes, the following symptoms may occur:
- intense feelings of low mood, worthlessness or hopelessness and despair;
- poor concentration;
- lack energy; and
- loss of interest in things previously enjoyed.
During a manic episode, a person's judgement is impaired and causes difficulties and disruption in social and occupational functioning. People may become very high, they are over confident, full of energy and ideas, overly talkative, have less need for sleep and take risks they would not normally take. People can get themselves into problematic situations and do things they may later regret (eg spending sprees, sexual indiscretions, and foolish investments). Further, as mania worsens people can become very confused and lose touch with reality which can be very frightening.
Treatment can do much to reduce and even eliminate symptoms of bipolar disorder. Medication is generally considered an essential component to treatment. However a combination of medication, psychological intervention, sometimes electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and community support programs usually result in the best outcomes. Treatment can be provided in a variety of settings including both inpatient and outpatient facilities.