Bipolar disorder is characterised by periods of manic highs and dark lows and is one of the most debilitating mental health conditions. Sufferers are more commonly known as manic depressives because of the mood swings they suffer. The condition has gained more public awareness recently when a number of creative people admitted to suffering from it, including writer and comedian Stephen Fry.
While there may be underlying emotional and traumatic experiences that contribute to a condition such as bipolar disorder, it is more generally seen as a medical illness where the mood changes need to be controlled. This can mean taking mood stabilising medication that helps patients from reaching those highs and lows and maintains them, hopefully, in a steady state.
Getting Diagnosed as Bipolar
While we are now more aware of bipolar disorder, it is still one of the most poorly diagnosed of the mental health problems and is often confused with other conditions. For example, if you go to your doctor when you are suffering a low they are more likely to diagnose you with depression than bipolar disorder. Part of this is because sufferers tend to see the ‘high’ part of their condition as more positive and exclude it from their consultation.
Noticing Bipolar Disorder
Most people will notice the low of the disorder but will ignore the manic state and put it down to high spirits, at least in the initial stages. As the condition worsens, then the difference becomes increasingly apparent, especially to those around the individual.
Manic episodes can include high levels of irritability, being over excited or experiencing excessive happiness, levels of emotion that other people see as out of the ordinary. It can also include not sleeping and having a higher sex drive than normal.
Depressive episodes might include sadness, lack of energy, a decreased ability to make decisions and even thoughts of death and suicide.
These are not fleeting attacks – an episode can last for days, even weeks. The problem with bipolar disorder is that it often doesn’t conform to the clear cut manic to low cycle and can be extremely difficult to spot.
Medication for Bipolar Disorder
There are a number of medications for bipolar conditions, the most well-known being lithium carbonate and valproic acid. While we don’t know exactly how it works, lithium carbonate in particular has been effective in dealing with mania. It is often also given in conjunction with an antidepressant. In the initial stages of treatment there will probably need to be a little experimentation to find out which drug works for a person and the dose that should be administered.
How You Can Help to Conquer Bipolar Disorder
There are a number of ways in which you as an individual can improve your chances of coping with what can be a debilitating condition:
First of all, you have to make sure that you take your medication as prescribed. Many of those with bipolar disorder encounter problems when they don’t maintain this aspect of their treatment.
Including a 30-minute exercise regime into your daily life can help moderate mood swings and give you a general sense of well-being. On top of that, you should be eating a proper, balanced diet and establish a regular eating routine.
Maintaining a constant sleep regime can be useful as well. Try to avoid checking emails and using digital devices before you go to bed (all of which can disrupt your sleep patterns) and perhaps use a calming technique like meditation to prepare for a good night’s rest.
It goes without saying that you should avoid alcohol and illegal drugs. These will only exacerbate your condition and could have an adverse effect on your medication. If you are having a manic episode, then stay off the caffeine and other stimulants such as nicotine.
Reducing stress should also be a priority, both at home and at work. This can be easier said than done especially if you have a busy life or a high powered job. If you find that it is getting on top of you, counselling sessions could well help.
There is help out there for those who suffer from a bipolar disorder, despite the problems with initial diagnosis. There are also now support groups around which can give added help and advice.