Bipolar Disorder

Some days ago I read an article in a popular American magazine which described the experiences of Catherine Zeta-Jones (wife of Michael Douglas), who is suffering from Bipolar Disorder. The magazine points out some of the symptoms of this disease; explaining that millions of people may be affected by this disorder at some point in their lives.

There are many definitions that try to describe what Bipolar Disorder is. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) says that Bipolar Disorder is a serious disease of the brain. It adds that this condition involves periods of irritable or manic mood alternating with periods of depression. Such fluctuations in mood can be extremely steep. This disorder was formerly known as “manic-depressive illness” due to the unusual mood swings experienced by the person suffering from it. Sometimes they feel very happy and much more active than usual; to the point that social and cognitive functioning may be affected. This is called mania. Conversely, sometimes the same people may feel sad and depressed to the point that emotional and/or physical health is impacted. This is called depression. Bipolar Disorder can be characterized by such extreme variations in energy and behavior.

We must not confuse these changes with the everyday ups and downs experienced by most people. Bipolar symptoms are much more powerful. These individuals may face serious consequences in a relationship from such episodes, difficulty when attending social gatherings, going to school, or even with keeping a job. Such individuals can also be dangerous to themselves or others if left untreated, because depression or mania could influence individuals to try to hurt or kill themselves.

The exact causes of Bipolar Disorder are unclear, but there is a strong possibility that there is a genetic component. Bipolar Disorder can be hereditary; potentially increasing the risk for those who have biological parents with this disorder. Symptoms and signs of the disease usually appear between 15 and 25 years of age.

The following are among the most common signs and symptoms in the manic phase of this disorder:

  • Agitation or irritation
  • Inflated self-esteem (delusions of grandeur, false beliefs in special abilities)
  • Little need for sleep
  • Mood which is elevated to an extreme that may impact a person’s judgment,
    • or hyperactivity
    • or increased energy
    • or lack of self-control
    • or racing thoughts
  • Over-involvement in activities
  • Poor temper control
  • Reckless behavior
    • or engaging in excesses of food, drink and / or drugs
    • or impaired ability to form judgments
    • or sexual promiscuity
    • or excessive/impulsive spending
  • Tendency to be easily distracted

When the person is in the depressive phase we see the following signs and/or symptoms:

  • Depressed mood daily; constant sadness
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Eating disorders
    • or loss of appetite and weight loss
    • or exaggerated food consumption and weight gain
  • Fatigue or listlessness
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or guilt and worthlessness
  • Loss of self-esteem
  • Frequent thoughts about death
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Sleep disorder
    • or excessive sleepiness
    • or inability to sleep
  • Withdrawal from activities that were once enjoyable
  • Withdrawal from friends.

The risk of suicide is very high when a person suffers from this disorder. The use and abuse of alcohol and other drugs is common in many cases, activity which can worsen the situation. Fortunately, several methods and interventions can help patients reduce symptoms significantly. Non-steroidal anti-psychotic and/or anxiolytic medications can be used to stabilize mood. The doctor may also prescribe antidepressants to help control depression. In addition, counseling and education are necessary components during treatment. Many mental health professionals use cognitive behavioral therapy, as well as training for stress management. It is believed that stress may be one reason why a manic or depressive episode is triggered; resulting in the person experiencing a crisis.

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