Bipolar disorder affects the person with the disorder and on those around them. Learn to deal constructively with this illness!
An overview of bipolar disorder
Bipolar disorder, sometimes called bipolar affective disorder, bipolar mood disorder or manic depression, is a psychiatric condition that is characterized by alternating mania and depression.
During an episode of mania, there are marked changes in mood and energy. This may include exuberance or irritability, elation, and intense goal-directed activity. The affected person usually sleeps less, talks faster, or has disorganized thoughts. Many scenarios are possible, as there are many different manifestations of mania.
During a depressive episode, symptoms that are also observed in depression (a separate disorder) may appear, including intense fatigue, a marked decrease in energy, sadness, loss of interest, concentration problems, decreased psychomotor activity, and suicidal thoughts. To some extent, the possible manifestations are the reverse of those observed during a manic episode.
Bipolar disorder is most often diagnosed in adolescence or early adulthood. It affects both men and women indiscriminately, regardless of ethnicity, social status or education. Various aspects of life are disrupted by the illness, including interpersonal relationships, social or occupational functioning, and sleep quality.
Don't jump to conclusions
Sometimes people are labeled with bipolar disorder when in reality they don't have it. In fact, it's common to say about someone (usually without their knowledge) that they are bipolar. Caution! In some cases, mood swings, irritability, elation or depression can occur without bipolar disorder being the cause.
If a person seems to be exhibiting unusual or worrisome behaviours or if you no longer recognize them, it may be a good idea to strongly encourage them to see a doctor. Do not make a diagnosis. Only a doctor can diagnose the illness with certainty, following a thorough assessment based on very specific criteria.
When a person diagnosed with bipolar disorder presents symptoms that you find concerning, it is advisable to strongly encourage them to see a doctor. During a manic or depressive episode, the person may be unaware of their condition and the situation can escalate if medical treatment is not initiated. Fortunately, today, bipolar disorder can be controlled with medication and other measures.
If someone you love or know is affected by bipolar disorder, here is some advice to help support them:
- Accept your emotions. It is normal to feel confused, at a loss, or powerless. Don't judge yourself or the person affected by the disorder.
- Encourage the person to see a doctor, to take care of their health, and to take their medication. Praise the person for taking charge of the condition and acknowledge their progress.
- Accompany the person to medical appointments if they wish you to, and offer your help as often as possible.
- Find out more about the illness, its treatment, and available resources.
- Promote healthy habits, such as avoiding alcohol and drugs, eating well and getting regular physical activity.
- Promote the person's autonomy by respecting their pace. Don't try to take control, except if you feel the person is in danger.
- A person with this condition needs to learn to better cope with stress. So, for example, encourage the person to deal with problems as they arise.
- Watch for symptoms to quickly identify a depressive or manic episode.
- Don't forget yourself. Take time to enjoy yourself, relax and gain perspective.
Don't hesitate to speak to a pharmacist if you have questions about bipolar disorder and its treatment or about health and medication in general.