Definition: Bipolar disorders are a type of mood disorder where individuals find their moods cycling between mania and depression.
There are three forms of bipolar disorder, bipolar I, bipolar II, and cyclothymia or cyclothymic disorder. They both share similar symptoms, cycling between mania and/or hypomania and depression, however, they present in different ways. Typically, bipolar manifests between the ages of 15 and 40, but it can occur at an earlier or later age.
Each of these conditions will vary in terms of symptoms and severity. Bipolar I involves a person’s moods cycling between depression and at least one episode of mania with episodes lasting for at least one week. Bipolar II can look similar to bipolar I, but it has periods of hypomania instead of manic episodes. Cyclothymia tends to present less severe moods but changes are often more frequent and, if left untreated, can change into bipolar I or bipolar II.
Symptoms for bipolar disorders are grouped into three categories: manic and depressive. Depending on whether an individual has bipolar I or II or cyclothymia, these can manifest in different ways.
- Agitation and irritability
- Easily distracted
- Impulsivity and/or risk-taking behaviours
- Inflated sense of self
- Not sleeping much if at all
- Racing thoughts
- Rapid/fast talking
- Difficulty sleeping or too much sleep
- Feelings of despair and/or guilt
- Feelings of sadness, emptiness and hopelessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
- Poor appetite
- Thoughts of suicide and/or self-harm
People may experience some or all of the above symptoms. In some individuals, there may be additional symptoms including anxiety, psychosis, catatonia and more.
Note: Hypomania tends to be a less extreme form of mania. Symptoms and behaviours can be similar but generally don’t last as long and aren’t as severe.
As with any health condition, treatment can vary from person to person. What’s helpful for one may not be helpful for another, however, there are some treatments available that can and do help those struggling with bipolar disorder. Treatments include:
- Medication: There are many different kinds of medications, including mood stabilisers and antidepressants, that can help those manage symptoms better.
- Psychotherapy: There is also a range of therapies that have been found to have a positive effect on those experiencing bipolar. These include talk therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT), interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (IPSRT), and group or family therapy. In some cases, those with bipolar disorders have found electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) to be beneficial. While there has been a lot of stigma surrounding this specific type of treatment, modern medicine has allowed it to be a safe and effective treatment for many health conditions.
- Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) or vagus nerve stimulation (VNS): These are alternative options for when other treatments haven’t worked.
It’s best to talk to your health team when looking at treatment options. They can recommend and guide you through what could be the best fit for you and your well-being.
I have a loved one experiencing bipolar disorder, how can I help?
If you have a loved one who is struggling, having an open conversation about how you can best support them can mean the world. For example, asking how you can best support them on their journey. Simply being a friend can often be the best thing to do. Maybe even working on a well-being plan with your loved one that may be useful to both of you.
Understanding this condition is also immensely helpful. It can help you and your loved one to better work with what they’re going through. It’s equally important to also remember to take time out for yourself for self-care.
Bipolar disorders are complex conditions, but it’s important for those struggling to know that bipolar can be managed. You can find ways to cope with it and manage it. There is always hope and people who care about you who will support you on your journey.
Resources and Links
- Balance - Online Support Groups
- The Mighty - Bipolar Disorder
- Mental Health Foundation NZ - Bipolar Disorder
- Cleveland Clinic - Cyclothymia
- The Mighty - Cyclothymic Disorder
- Mind UK - Supporting Someone with Bipolar
- Instagram - this.is.bipolar
- Instagram - bipolarexplained
- Gabe Howard's Website
Voices of Hope does not offer direct mental health services and our team is not comprised of trained mental health professionals. If you require assistance, we recommend visiting our resources page for helpful information.
If you are in immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, or need advice for someone in your life that is at risk of immediate harm to themselves please contact your local emergency services.