Bipolar Disorder Resources

Gain a better understanding of bipolar disorder.
Bipolar Disorder Resources

Discover what you need to know about bipolar disorder including causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment. After you have gained a basic understanding, discover just some of our resources on bipolar disorder from support groups, mental health organisations, events, bipolar disorder articles, published books, mood journals, creative stories and videos.

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive disorder, is a mental illness characterised by an individual experiencing an alternating mood from depression to euphoric phases (mania), and this tends to become chronic.

Naturally, sadness and joy are 'normal' reactions to certain events in our life, however, when affective disorders are excessive, or prolonged over time, cycling between the two and all in-between, they can become pathological and require medical attention.

Bipolar disorder generally affects men and women equally, (as opposed to depression that is more common in women). This mental illness is most frequently manifested for the first time between the ages of 10 and 24, and there seems to be a higher incidence of bipolar disorder among separated and divorced individuals, as well as those with a higher socioeconomic level.

Bipolar disorder may be hereditary, although any potential gene that may cause it has not been identified. The causes are believed to be the result of a set of neurobiological and psychosocial factors.

Some risk factors associated with the onset of the disease are:

Seasonal rhythm: individuals may experience depressive relapses during certain seasons e.g. during autumn, and potential manic relapses during summer for example, which could be related to the hours of sunlight.

Up to 50% of bipolar patients may have a first-degree relative with a severe psychiatric disorder.

Biochemical alterations in brain neurotransmitters may be present.

Stressful life events such as loss of a significant emotional relationship (death, divorce, separation...) or a major change in daily lide (work dismissal, retirement, change of place of residence...), these may precipitate the development of bipolar disorder in some individuals and note, this is not a weakness at all!

Symptoms of Depression in Bipolar Disorder

The Characteristic Symptoms of Depressive Episodes:

Low mood or sadness

Many individuals experience several mood changes during the day

Sleep disturbances, mainly insomnia

Changes in appetite and weight.

A lack of energy.

Complaints for physical pain or discomfort

Sexual disorders, with a decreased libido

Behavioural changes

Decreased attention and concentration

May neglect their personal appearance.

A negative vision of life, whether the past, present or future

Negative ideas may become delusions

Suicidal Ideas and thoughts. In this case, immediate medical intervention is required to reduce the risk of suicide.

Symptoms of Mania in Bipolar Disorder

During the manic phases of bipolar disorder, individuals experience excessive and exaggerated feelings of euphoria, and their physical activity may also be exaggerated.

Mania is less common than depression and often goes unnoticed, as individuals experiencing episodes of mania do not always consider it a mental problem (after a long period of depression it's so understandable to actually really like the feelings of euphoria, however, all that comes along with mania, may not be so enjoyable!). They may not consult with a medical professional if they do not see it as an issue.

The Characteristic Symptoms of Manic Episodes:

General Symptoms

Cheerful moodiness which is often excessive in relation to events.

There may be individuals who are especially irritable.

Expanded self-esteem

Delusions of grandeur

Somatic Symptoms

Sleep Disorders: Indiviuals may sleep very little yet not feel tired.

Disorders of appetite: individuals may eat a lot, but there are also individuals who may barely eat; in any case, they may not usually gain weight due to their increased physical activity.

Sexual disorders: individuals may develop an increased desire for sexual activity, (even if this isn't what they usually do). Unfortunately, this may pose risks to their health, such as not taking precautions to avoid sexually transmitted diseases.

An increase of energy

Disruptive behaviour with a disregard for any risks and consequences of their behaviour e.g. spending a lot of money, giving up their work, buying expensive and inappropriate gifts, getting into risky business, abusing alcohol, etc.

Individuals may neglect their physical appearance.

Great physical hyperactivity: they may become involved in multiple activities, which may lead to exhaustion, especially with their potential lack of sleep.

Mental hyperactivity: individuals may speak very fast because their thoughts are running so fast; they may think faster than they can speak leading to the loss of some thoughts (flight of ideas).

Bipolar or manic-depressive disorder usually begins with an episode of depression, which will alternate with periods of mania throughout the illness. The intensity and alternation of the phases of depression and mania will depend on the type of bipolar disorder that the patient suffers. The diagnosis of this mental illness is based upon the symptoms that characterise the depressive and manic periods and a doctor will prescribe the correct treatment in each phase, although many individuals manifest both manic and depressive symptoms, which is what is known as mixed bipolar state.

In any case, the Psychiatrist will always rule out the presence of other physical disorders, such as various diseases, or the symptoms being the side effects of any drugs.

Diagnoses for Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder

Involves a combination of depressive episodes and manic syndromes. This disorder can be divided into:

Bipolar disorder I

Individuals must have presented with manic-depressive episodes, or just mania (symptoms that impair the social, occupational, affective, or any other area of the individual's life, lasting for at least one week (unless they are so severe that they require immediate admission to hospital)). It is the most severe form of the disease

Bipolar II disorder

Individuals experience major depressive episodes of short duration (involves depression lasting at least two weeks duration), which alternate with hypomanic episodes.

Cyclothymic disorder

It is a mild form of manic-depressive illness, in which depressive symptoms and manic symptoms have a mild-moderate intensity and usually last a few days, although they recur frequently at regular intervals.

Depressive episodes are treated the same as in a depression, but in individuals with bipolar disorder, antidepressants may trigger episodes of mania, so a mood stabilising drug, and especially lithium, are used to prevent relapses.

Medication for Bipolar Disorder

Lithium

Lithium takes about 7-10 days before it becomes effective, so when used to treat a manic episode, it is usually used in combination with antipsychotic drugs such as haloperidol.

To check their efficacy and possible side effects (which may include tremors, nausea and vomiting, thyroid hormone abnormalities, muscular contractions, diarrhea and increased urine, weight gain and more), doctors will request blood tests periodically to monitor the lithium values in the individual's blood.

Routine controls on lithium treatment

Blood analysis.

Kidney function tests.

Ionic study (sodium, potassium, calcium).

Thyroid function tests.

Electrocardiogram (ECG).

Pregnancy test (at baseline).

Anticonvulsants also Known as Mood Stabilisers

Both carbamazepine and valproic acid are mood stabilisers and have been shown to be effective for the treatment of bipolar disorder. They are used as an alternative to lithium in cases where the individual is resistant to Lithium, intolerance to it's side effects, or in individuals in whom lithium is contraindicated. These two drugs appear to be especially effective in individuals who switch from depressive to manic symptoms in a short time (rapid-cycling).

Women who are on lithium and wish to become pregnant must tell their doctor, who will assess the risks of discontinuing treatment, as this medicine can cause malformations in the fetus. Also carbamazepine and valproic acid, given during pregnancy, are associated with neural tube defects in the fetus, among other possible malformations. In addition, it is necessary to take into account that all these drugs are excreted in the breast milk.

Psychotherapy for Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a chronic mental illness and so doctors recommend that drug treatment should be followed for many years, and even for life. For this reason, psychotherapy is recommended to help individuals, especially for those who wish to come off of medication. Psychotherapy can aid individuals living with bipolar disorder, as well as their families to better understand the mental illness to be prepared to deal with it better.

It's not always easy to diagnose bipolar disorder because the symptoms are often confused with other problems, or are associated with other diseases that can coexist with the disorder. For this reason, it is advisable to consult with your GP if you suffer intense and frequent mood disturbances, especially if they aren't particularly related to pleasant or unpleasant life events, or if the affective reaction in your case is disproportionate or excessively prolonged in duration.

Sometimes relatives and friends may detect a problem before you do, so please don't be offended, they may just have your best interests at heart, even if they go about things the wrong way. If they do observe any irregularity they may encourage you to go to see your GP, why not try it?

Once diagnosed with bipolar disorder we advise you to follow the following recommendations:

Do not abandon the pharmacological treatment that you have been prescribed. You may feel well, and when you stop medication, there is the possibility that you may not experience debilitating symptoms, but there's also the possibility that your mental health may decline. We suggest speaking to our GP as they may be able to give you alternatives to medication if you do not fully agree with taking any.

Try to establish a daily routines whether you are employed or unemployed. Eat meals regularly, establish a healtthy sleeping pattern, make time for people that are important to you (you may even need to let some people go, that's ok, do what is best for you.

Gain a through understanding of bipolar disorder, read personal experiences from others that live with bipolar disorder so you fully gain the realisation that you are not alone in what you are going through and you can learn from and be inspired by others in your situation.

Talk to people that are important to you, whether family and/or friends. It's important that they embark on this journey of mental health recovery with you and gain an understanding of bipolar disorder. Perhaps they can read personal experiences from others with bipolar disorder too so they realise that this is real and thus can better support you.

Consult your doctor about any new symptoms or side effects related to the drugs you take, but do not stop the treatment on your own because it may potentially be dangerous and may aggravate the symptoms.

Try other treatments, such as psychotherapy, that may help to improve your quality of life and your relationship with your loved ones.
Try to limit or avoid alcohol or other drugs.

Try not to self-medicate or take vitamin supplements or natural herbal remedies without first talking to your doctor because there is the possibility that they may interact with your medication (either increasing or decreasing it's amount in your blood meaning it may be ineffective to control your symptoms or may become toxic.

Browse Our Recent Bipolar Disorder Resources

Below you will discover just some of our community resources on bipolar disorder.