‘I think, move and speak fast whenever I have an episode of bipolar’ says Debbie. ‘At other times I just withdraw from everyone and lose interest in things,’ she added.
‘People tell me I become more lively, do and say things that make them laugh, then appear sad, down and tired at other times’ says Mike.
Debbie and Mike have bipolar disorder which is also known as manic-depressive illness. Both have experienced periods of low and elevated moods in the course of the illness. This is different from depression which is only experienced as sadness or low moods.
Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder affecting a person’s mood, thinking, feelings and behaviour. Persons with bipolar disorder have ‘unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels and the ability to carry out day to day tasks’ says NIMH.
They may become depressed and suicidal at a particular period. Then experience unusually elevated moods, energy and interests at other times. The condition often persists for months if untreated.
How common is bipolar disorder?
According to health surveys, one out of every hundred persons will have bipolar disorder. So, at any given time, not less than 51 million persons suffer from bipolar.
Bipolar usually begins between the age of 15 and 25 years. It rarely occurs before the age of 10 or after the age of 40years. It usually occurs earlier in men than women.
What are some features you are likely to notice in people with bipolar disorder?
Elevated or irritable mood– Irritable or elevated mood is typically seen in hypomania or mania. This elevated mood is unique in the sense that it can’t easily be explained. The periods of elevated mood may alternate with low moods associated with reduced appetite. Their mood also affects dressing. Some have been found to wear bright, colourful clothes, or use excessive jewellery, makeup or accessories.
Rising energy levels- You may note that your relative is unusually active, getting involved in several tasks at the same time. Rather than complete any of these assignments, they move on to others.
During this period, you may notice increased involvement in pursuits such as religious activities and politics. In their happy state, they may begin to sing aloud or play loud music at inappropriate times or places.
‘People complained that I prayed and sang songs loudly’ says Bose.
‘I stayed up late at nights making calls, texting, chatting and spending time on social media’ says Seun.
You would expect them to be exhausted from this increased level of involvement in multiple tasks. However, you hear no complains of tiredness after they have been engaged in physically demanding activities.
Decreased need for sleep– Rather than wake up at the usual time, persons with bipolar disorder wake up earlier and engage in activities that sometimes disrupt the sleep of others.
‘I feel there is no need to rest because there is so much to do’ says Jeffery, when he had an episode of bipolar illness. .
Increased sexual energy-Marriage mates and partners may note a sudden increase in their sexual drive. In some cases, they begin to have extramarital affairs or engage in risky sexual behaviour, sleeping with strangers or having unprotected sex.
Poor concentration or distractibility– They may find it difficult to retain information or follow through on assignments. This seriously affects their performance at school or work.
Talkativeness-They are filled with so many ideas that they can’t just stop talking. Sometimes, it becomes so difficult to interrupt them. Regardless of the listener’s response, they continue to speak playfully and crack jokes.
Other features include inflated self-esteem, excessive spending and intrusive behaviour.
Do you know of someone with bipolar illness?
Most people are not aware of the symptoms. Family members, friends, neighbours or school mates are more likely to observe changes in the person’s mood, thinking and behaviour.
Consider Mary, a 27 year old fashion designer. Some weeks after her wedding, she felt unusually energetic and able to take on large amounts of work. She started waking up early to clean the rooms, wash clothes and re-arrange household furniture at odd hours. She volunteered for several projects at the same time. Apart from requiring as little as 4 hours of sleep at night, her sex drive had increased remarkably, she even started making seductive remarks at her neighbours and seemed to really enjoy sexually explicit jokes.
Mary never felt that anything was wrong and refused to see the doctor when asked to do so.
The increased level of activity and dis-inhibition make them likely to have serious trouble with authorities at school, work or the community.
For instance, when Seun had bipolar, he issued cheques to his classmates although having almost nothing in his bank account. He was alleged to have committed fraud which led to his arrest.
It is important to note that mental health experts consider how the condition has disrupted everyday activities and rule out other physical conditions that may be confused with bipolar disorder.
What causes bipolar disorder?
The exact cause is still unknown. However, it tends to run in families. Nevertheless, most people with a family history of bipolar disorder will not develop the illness.
The personality style of an individual, presence or absence of social support, stressful life events are other factors that may contribute to the occurrence of the condition too.
Bipolar disorder is a lifelong illness. Nevertheless, with proper diagnosis and treatment, millions of persons with bipolar disorder live healthy and productive lives.
Medications and talk therapy usually helps the individual to have better control of their mood swings and other symptoms.
If you think you or a loved one has bipolar disorder, talk to a doctor or mental health professional.
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