- Bipolar disorder, or bipolar affective disorder, is a mood disorder that can cause you to experience extreme highs and extreme lows.
- Bipolar disorder used to be known as manic depression.
- It is fairly common and affects about 1 in 100 people. Although we don’t know exactly what causes it, it’s likely to be a mix of things.
- Bipolar disorder can be treated with medications and talking therapies.
Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition and more than mood swings, it goes beyond the usual highs and lows of life. We all go through times of happiness and sadness at one time or another. Where bi-polar differs is the lack of control over these emotional states and the extreme nature of the mood changes. It is usually identified before you’re around 20 but in some cases can present later in life.
How does bipolar disorder feel?
The highs and lows of bipolar disorder can really interfere with your day-to-day life. They might effect your relationships, work, school or even sex-life.
Here are some things you might experience while in a manic state;
- Feeling energetic, excited or super happy.
- Spending lots of money or taking risks (specifically sexual or financial ones).
- Feeling hyperactive, too much energy to sleep or eat like usual.
- Some people feel very creative and see this as a positive experience.
- You can also feel irritable, aggressive and out of control which isn’t as enjoyable.
- You may experience psychosis which is when you lose touch with reality and see or hear things that are not there.
At the other end of the scale you can go into a really depressed state where you experience things like;
- A general low mood such as feeling negative, guilty or remorseful.
- Sleeping lots or having problems sleeping.
- Feeling less interested in things that you usually would be or have problems concentrating.
- Feeling worthless, helpless or sometimes suicidal.
You might have heard that some of the most successful, talented and creative people in life, like famous artists, writers and comedians, have experienced these kinds of extreme states of mind. That isn’t to glamourise it, because even for such people it involves a lot of unhappiness between the higher moments. Of course, this affects a whole range of people and can be really difficult for anyone to live with.
You can find more about the symptoms of bipolar disorder here. If you think you are experiencing bipolar disorder your GP can help.
Why do people get bipolar disorder?
Like many mental health conditions, there’s no single reason people experience bipolar disorder. It is a result of a combination of different things, including your genes, your background and life circumstances, as well as psychological factors. Bipolar disorder can be triggered by your personal situation, a recent or old trauma, or any stressful situation, but it can also be triggered for no obvious reason at all.
Where can I find help?
- Talk to CALM from 5pm to midnight everyday. Our professional helpline workers are there to talk and to help you find ways to move forward. Calls and webchats are free, anonymous, non-judgemental and confidential.
- Outside of these hours, call the Samaritans on 116 123.
- Contact your GP for an appointment (which might be done over the phone or by video – during covid19)
- Self-refer yourself to NHS Psychological Therapies here
For more information https://www.bipolaruk.org/
Dealing with bipolar disorder
There are forms of medication that can have a relatively quick impact in balancing mood. This can be very helpful but like most medications, there can be side-effects. Medication is not the only option though, and you should explore all possible ways to deal with your diagnosis. A lot of people are referred for talking therapies such as CBT or Interpersonal therapy. Although bipolar is a long-term condition, effective treatments often mean you can return to a place where it doesn’t affect your everyday life.
Talking about bipolar disorder
It can be difficult to talk about any mental health conditions with your friends, family or a medical professional. Here’s some ways you can start a conversation around how you’re feeling:
“I need to talk to you about how I’m feeling. Things are tough, and I think I might have bipolar disorder. I don’t need you to find a solution, I just want to share how I feel”
“I need to talk – I’ve been struggling with extreme mood swings and think I might be experiencing bipolar disorder.”
“You might have noticed I’ve not been around so much lately. I’ve been finding things difficult, and think I might have bipolar disorder…”
Header illustration by Erin Aniker