Bipolar is the modern diagnosis of ‘manic depression’. There are people out there who prefer the old way of saying it. The bipolar label just isn’t as descriptive of the issues faced by those diagnosed with it.
Bipolar disorder is characterised by extremes of mood. There are varying degrees of it; from cyclothymia (more chronic but less extreme), bipolar I and bipolar II. All forms feature a mix of depressive and manic episodes, but the severity of the episodes can vary between diagnosis.
Bipolar I is a disorder in which the person experiences full manic or mixed episodes. They only need to have experienced one manic episode for diagnosis to be made, the severity of which causes impairment to everyday activities. The manic state is characterised by extravagance, grandeur, elation, pressured speech, irritability, reduced need to sleep, along with potential risk-seeking behaviours. There should also be, during a depressive episode, at least three characteristics of major depression.
Bipolar II is differentiated from BPI by the absence of full mania. Instead, the person can experience hypomania that lasts at least four days. The depressive state can be the more common and the intervals of well-being are generally shorter.
The risk of self-harm and suicide is increased in those with BPII, and especially those in a mixed-mood state. This can be due to an increased motivation to engage in risk-taking behaviour, coupled with depressive hopelessness. Substance abuse disorders have high co-morbidity with the bipolar disorders.
Treatment for bipolar disorder involves the use of medication. Mood stabilisers act to suppress the swings between highs and lows. In addition, an anti-depressant can be used to combat the depressive episodes, especially in those with BPII. Some atypical anti-psychotics also have a mood stabilising effect.
Talk therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy can be used to support well-being and help the sufferer with learning skills to cope, triggers and help with awareness of early warning signs of an episode.
Living with bipolar can be a challenge. Episodes of depression and mania effect the ability to conduct everyday life.