Bipolar disorder (formerly called manic-depression) is a bio-chemical condition that results in an imbalance of the neurotransmitters in the brain. Genetic make-up is thought to play a role but so too are environmental pressures such as your family, work and social environment, stress, injury, illness and hormone imbalances.
Bipolar disorder is characterized by mood swings that can last for days, weeks or even months. These swings range from mild to severe. The "bi" in bipolar disorder refers to the dual nature of these mood swings - from feelings of great happiness and elation to sadness and despair. In its most severe expression, bipolar disorder can result in mania which is defined as strongly held beliefs that you are a famous person, have special physical abilities or knowledge, or that you are invincible. People can experience mania as a euphoric period. Unfortunately, mania is also accompanied by unwise behaviours tied to the false beliefs. These can include spending sprees, risky sexual activity, excessive drinking or drug use, and other reckless activities or decisions. Bouts of mania are followed by the depths of depression where people feel worthless and hopeless. This phase of bipolar disorder is excruciatingly painful. The mood swings of bipolar disorder deeply affect relationships, social and work functioning and can, in the extreme, bring people into contact with the law.
Symptoms of mania can include the following:
Some symptoms of depression may include:
The aftermath of a manic episode can be devastating both for individuals and for families and loved ones. They may now be dealing with financial hardship, the health and relational effects of risky sexual practices or the physical consequences of substance abuse or personal injury accidents or assaults that may have occurred during mania. The depressive phase can involve the risk of suicide.
Bipolar disorder is a serious illness but with treatment, people can recover and lead fulfilling lives.
If you think you or someone you know has bi-polar disorder it is important to get help from mental health professionals, most often a psychiatrist alone with a team of providers who have a variety of skills. Help involves a diagnosis - which can take some time while the mental health professional gets to know you or person you are concerned about and their symptoms. Next, psychiatric medication will be prescribed. Again, it may take time to get the right one at the right dosage level. You or the person you are concerned about will also learn that people with bipolar disorder do best with a combination of medication and personal therapy - which may extend to family therapy. Peer support and self-help are invaluable as nothing can substitute for the message that "you are not alone."
Living with bipolar illness is not easy but full recovery is possible. The first step is taking personal responsibility for your own health.
More information on bi-polar disorder can be found in the Public Health Agency Report: "The Human Face of Mental Health and Mental Illness In Canada 2006".
More information and resources on bi-polar disorder can be found at the following web sties: