What is bipolar disorder?

Overview: Mood disorders are conditions that cause people to feel intense, prolonged emotions that negatively affect their mental well-being, physical health, relationships and behaviour. In addition to feelings of depression, someone with bipolar disorder also has episodes of mania. Symptoms of mania may include extreme optimism, euphoria and feelings of grandeur; rapid, racing thoughts and hyperactivity; a decreased need for sleep; increased irritability; impulsiveness and possibly reckless behaviour. – Canadian Mental Health Association

Bipolar Mood Disorder causes wide mood swings, so sufferers can often be very unpredictable, and can swing between acting very depressed, or very elated and happy.

Bipolar depression usually sets in, in late adolescence and the early 20s, just like many other mood disorders. However, Bipolar Mood Disorder usually isn’t recognized until the symptoms are around for about 10 years.

Normally, the years before diagnosis will be characterized by unpredictable moods and irritability which are usually seen as a “normal phase” for teens. Those with Bipolar Mood Disorder are prone to alcohol and drug abuse; often a way of controlling how they feel, when they feel out of control. Of course, using drugs and alcohol to control your emotions is unhealthy and will hurt more than help your situation.

Bipolar mood swings can sometimes become so severe that they slip into what is known as “psychosis”. Psychotic thinking means that someone has lost touch with reality. It can happen at the extremes of depression or elation. A person in psychosis may hear voices when there is no one around, may feel that they are being watched or followed by strangers, or may feel that others can read their minds. They may also develop strange delusional beliefs that they have superhuman abilities. When psychotic thinking is present, it is impossible to distinguish the condition from schizophrenia.

Adapted by kind permission of Dr Grant Mullen from his book “What Everyone Should Know About… Depression, Anxiety, Mood Swings and Hyperactvity”.

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