What is bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a potentially serious psychiatric disorder, characterised by mania (a dramatic elevation in mood and energy) that is often followed by depression (which can last weeks, months or occasionally even years).
What is mania and hypomania?
Mania is a dramatic elevation in mood and energy. The intensity of mania can vary from mild (hypomania) to severe (mania).
Mania can lead to hospitalisations and sometimes includes psychotic symptoms, such as delusions and paranoia. However, less severe or ‘mild mania,’ termed hypomania, often doesn’t lead people to seek help. In fact, someone experiencing hypomania is unlikely to feel they need help at all - after all, who would think to seek help for high confidence, a mind bursting with fresh ideas and endless energy?
While hypomania can only sometimes be problematic enough for someone to seek professional assistance, it is often accompanied by its far more troubling cousin: depression. It is common that during these depressive episodes, people look towards seeking professional help, and the bipolar disorder is finally brought to light.
The mania and hypomania aspect of bipolar disorder is often accompanied by:
- Lesser need for sleep or an inability to sleep (insomnia)
- Racing mind
- Feeling as if you have consumed too much caffeine or taken an illicit substance, such as cocaine
- Extreme self-confidence and self-belief that is out of the ordinary
- Lack of control or a fear of losing control
- High creative output
- Being extremely talkative, often feeling unable to stop chatting
- Dramatically increased sex drive
- Behaving recklessly
- Having extravagant ideas that are unrealistic
- Behaving impulsively, for example booking a plane ticket last minute in search of an adventure
- Disregard for one’s safety, perhaps engaging in risky or irresponsible activities, such as gambling, spending sprees or unsafe sex
Bipolar disorder can come in many forms, and symptoms can vary substantially between people. Bipolar disorder is surprisingly common, with 2 in every 100 people diagnosed with the condition. You might even be familiar with some of the highly successful people known to have been diagnosed with bipolar, such as Kanye West, Stephen Fry, Mel Gibson, Frank Sinatra, Russel Brand, Mariah Carey, Selena Gomez, Sinéad O'Connor and even Winston Churchill.
Although all of these people admit to struggling with their symptoms, many have come out publicly to highlight the benefits of accessing professional help and education about the disorder. Here is a video of Stephen Fry, speaking to his younger self, highlighting the importance of seeking bipolar disorder treatment.
What are the different types of bipolar disorder?
There are four main types of bipolar disorder, but in reality, symptoms may not fall precisely into these categories:
Periods of both severe depression and mania
Periods of both severe depression and hypomania
Rapid cycling Bipolar
Either Bipolar 1 or 2, except episodes are shorter and occur more frequently (at least 4 episodes a year).
Periods of feeling low (mild depression) followed by periods of feeling energetic, excited and happy (hypomania).
What are the warning signs of bipolar disorder?
Here are some of the warning signs you may want to look out for if you or a loved one are suspicious that you may need bipolar disorder treatment:
- Knowing that something is just not quite right
- Random, extended fits of laughter for no apparent reason
- Feeling a lesser need for sleep
- Feeling elated, audacious or invincible
- Losing your appetite
- Feeling agitated, restless or uncomfortable in your skin
- Feeling like you’re losing control of your thoughts because they’re racing
What are the potential triggers of bipolar disorder?
We also encourage you to note potential triggers for your condition, some examples of which may be:
- Stress at work, home or school
- Conflict or socially upsetting circumstances
- A break-up or change in your romantic life
- Lack of sleep
- Recreational drug use
- Prescribed medications that are not appropriate for your condition
Our approach to bipolar disorder treatment
Bipolar disorder is likely caused by a combination of genetics interacting with environmental risk factors. However, scientists still haven't been able to pinpoint the specific causes. The good news is that many people with the condition still live happy and successful lives, but finding the right bipolar disorder treatment approach and symptom management plan is crucial.
We have extensive experience in providing bipolar disorder treatment using a range of approaches, from medication to therapy. Treating bipolar disorder takes expertise and experience, as it is easy to misdiagnose someone with bipolar with either depression or psychosis, due to the changes in their symptoms over time. Receiving a diagnosis from a psychiatrist before moving ahead with medications is incredibly important in the case of bipolar disorder, as specific medications can worsen symptoms or trigger an episode, while other medications may only treat some of the symptoms.
At LPC we know that psychoeducation is essential for successful treatment of bipolar disorder. We encourage you to get to know the nature of your bipolar disorder patterns, so you learn to recognise the signs before an episode takes hold. These are specific to you, and no two people will have exactly the same set of warning signs, but they may be similar.
We follow the Maudsley Prescribing Guidelines for bipolar disorder, which recommends using both antipsychotics and mood stabilisers, with anti-anxiety drugs often being useful as an add-on to these medications. Specific medication will be prescribed depending on what type of bipolar disorder symptoms someone has (see below).
Research has even shown that certain medications work most effectively when they are taken in conjunction with another medication. For example, medications that are commonly prescribed together include lithium and an antidepressant, lithium and lamotrigine, or olanzapine and fluoxetine.
We also use other evidence-based methods that have been shown to improve or reduce symptoms of bipolar disorder. Some of these approaches are:
- Psychotherapy: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Interpersonal Therapy
- Psychoeducation: providing education and advice on how to recognise triggers and manage symptoms to individuals with bipolar, as well as their families/partners
- Stress management: mindfulness, meditation, or self-care activities
- Exercise plans
By taking control of your condition under the guidance of our experienced professionals, there is no reason that a diagnosis of bipolar disorder should hold someone back from what they want to achieve.
Patient success stories
I am 26, I was 24 when I was diagnosed with type 1 bipolar disorder. Becoming sick at this point of my life was very discombobulating. I was very ignorant about bipolar disorder and therefore disorientated when it came to understanding my mania and depression.
Since I have started feeling better and that depression flip switched off, I have been regularly speaking to Dr Alameda. I really feel appreciative of his holistic care, having a talented psychiatrist helping me stabilise and prevent me from relapsing this year.
I would also like to mention how brilliant Jennifer and Kirsty (Dr Pertusa and Dr Alamada’s secretaries) have been, they have an amazing bedside manner and I enjoy their phone calls. - Jenna, 28