Change perceptions on bipolar disorder

Ahead of  World Bipolar Day on Thursday, March 30, education is key to changing perceptions on this crippling mental condition so prevalent in South Africa.

In fact, according to the World Health Organisation, bipolar disorder is the sixth leading cause of disability in the world.

Previously known as manic-depressive disorder, bipolar disorder is a medical condition that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. These shifts in mood, from extreme highs to extreme lows, affect thoughts, feelings, physical health, behaviour and functioning.

Life Healthcare is encouraging education and early detection to bring awareness and eliminate social stigma surrounding the disease.

“In the manic or ‘high’ phase of the illness you are not just happy, but rather, ecstatic. A great burst of energy can be followed by severe depression, which is the “low” phase of the disease. Periods of fairly normal moods can be experienced between cycles,” says Dr Riyas Fadal, Life Healthcare Group complementary services manager Dr Riyas Fadal said.

These cycles are different for different people, and can last for days, weeks, or even months. But Fadal said while the effects of the disorder can vary, it’s important to understand that the condition is treatable.

“Although bipolar disorder can be disabling, it also responds well to treatment. Since many other diseases can masquerade as manic depression, it is important that the person undergoes a complete medical evaluation as soon as possible,” Fadal said.

Psychiatrists may play a vital role in the diagnosis and management of bipolar disorder.

The exact cause of bipolar disorder is unknown, but it is believed to be a combination of biochemical, genetic and psychological factors.

“Bipolar disorder is not restricted to any social or educational class, race, gender, or nationality. Very often, episodes occur for no apparent reason. The earlier treatment is started, the more effective it may be in preventing future episodes,” Fadal said.

If you suspect that you, a family member, or a friend has bipolar disorder, you should consult a mental health professional. This can be done directly or through your family physician, your health maintenance organisation, or your community mental health centre or psychiatrist. Self-help and support groups can also be helpful.

“The outlook for people with bipolar disorder today is optimistic. Many new and promising treatments are being developed and with the right treatment, most should be able to lead full and productive lives,” Fadal said.

The symptoms of bipolar disorder can vary widely in their pattern, severity and frequency. There are four types of mood episodes in bipolar disorder: mania, hypomania, depression, and mixed episodes. Each type of bipolar disorder mood episode has a unique set of symptoms. And although it’s treatable, many people don’t recognise the warning signs and get the help they need.

Checklist of bipolar symptoms

Below are nine symptoms of bipolar disorder:

  • Feeling unusually “high” and optimistic or extremely irritable;
  • Unrealistic, grandiose beliefs about one’s abilities or powers;
  • Sleeping very little, but feeling extremely energetic;
  • Racing thoughts; jumping quickly from one idea to the next;
  • Impaired judgment and impulsiveness;
  • Feeling hopeless, sad, or empty;
  • Fatigue or loss of energy;
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt;
  • Thoughts of death or suicide.

If someone you know is experiencing mental health problems or needs urgent support, contact a medical professional.

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