It is common for people to experience mood swings every now and then, however people with Bipolar disorder experience extreme changes of mood and energy with periods of very “high” mood (mania or hypomania) and very “low” mood (major depression). The frequency and duration of each high and low period varies, but they can nevertheless be extremely disruptive and can greatly impact an individual’s daily functioning (e.g. their work, school and family commitments and responsibilities).
Bipolar disorder occurs in approximately 1.8% of Australians. Research shows that the disorder often first appears in the late teens to early adulthood, with onset usually before the age of 25. It is also shown that a depressive episode often occurs before a manic episode is experienced. Some people may only experience one or two episodes and then never have another one, while others may experience a rapid cycling pattern of multiple ongoing episodes within a short period of time.
Although most individuals generally experience depressive and manic episodes separately, some individuals experience ‘mixed episodes’ whereby they feel both ‘wired’ and depressed simultaneously.
Moods associated with bipolar disorder feel and look different for each individual, however some common signs and symptoms for episodes are listed below:
“Highs” of Bipolar (Mania or hypomania)
Episodes of mania and hypomania (a less severe form of mania that does not usually require hospitalisation) involve a period (greater than 4 days) of unusually “high”, euphoric, or irritable mood and a noticeable increase in energy. Common symptoms include:
- Inflated self-esteem and grandiosity – ranging from uncritical self-confidence to grandiose beliefs (believing they possess special powers or talents)
- Decreased need for sleep, sleeping very little without feeling tired or having any desire to sleep
- Racing thoughts and rapid speech – more talkative than usual, jumping from topic to topic, speech that is difficult others to follow, being easily distracted
- Increase in goal-directed activity or psychomotor agitation – having lots of projects and plans
- Increased interest in symbolism, patterns, and religious/spiritual ideas
- Uncharacteristically disinhibited – excessive engagement in high risk activities that are potentially harmful
- Impatient, irritable or aggressive behaviour
- Psychotic symptoms – hallucinations, delusional ideas, disorganised thinking and speech
“Lows” of Bipolar (depression)
These episodes are the same as the symptoms of a Major Depressive Episode and commonly include:
- Low mood most of the day, nearly every day – feeling sad, irritable, and teary
- Loss of interest or pleasure in your usual activities
- Eating more or less than usual, or a significant weight loss or gain
- Insomnia or feeling like you need less sleep to get by
- Fatigue/loss of energy and lack of motivation
- Feelings of restlessness or excessive guilt
- Feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness
- Difficulties concentrating
- Recurrent thoughts about death or dying
Risk Factors for Developing Bipolar
Research has shown that there a certain factors that increase the chance that someone will develop Bipolar Disorder or that may trigger the first episode, including:
- Having a first-degree relative with bipolar disorder
- Periods of high stress
- Inconsistent or disrupted sleep
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Major life changes (e.g. death of loved one, marriage, divorce, starting university)
Treatment for Bipolar Disorder
It is important to get the right treatment for bipolar disorder as early as possible. If left untreated, bipolar disorder can damage relationships, and job and school performance. People with bipolar disorder have a 15 times higher risk of suicide than the general population. Although bipolar disorder is a life-long disorder that needs ongoing management, with treatment individuals can reduce the frequency and intensity of episodes and live healthy, productive lives.
The treatment of bipolar disorder involves the combination of medication and psychological therapy. Medication plays an important role in helping to stabilise mood. There are a number of different medications and it is best to consult your GP or psychiatrist about what might be the right medication for you as clinical psychologists do not prescribe medication.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment for bipolar disorder, which helps people to gain control over their mood swings and other symptoms. The main components of CBT usually include monitoring and understanding the changes in mood, identifying and changing unhelpful thinking and behaviours in order to bring the highs and lows back to normal, mindfulness strategies, problem-solving strategies, strategies to manage stress, and keeping routines stable (e.g. mealtimes and sleep).
If you would like to find out more about our treatment for Bipolar Disorder, or to book an appointment with one of our clinical psychologists who provides treatment for this condition, please email or call the clinic on 9438 2511.