I don’t know if many of you read the recent news that the actress Catherine Zeta-Jones has been suffering from bipolar disorder.
I had vaguely heard of the problem but didn’t know much about it. Some people think it is just a posh word for depression but it is in fact a lot more complex than that. A person with bipolar disorder can experience vast mood changes from being excited and overactive down to the depths of depression. In the “high” stages of bipolar disorder, you can feel euphoric, lack concentration, your thoughts can race and you can become irritable. This can lead to poor judgements in various areas of normal everyday life. When bipolar disorder was known as manic depression, this “up” stage was the manic aspect.
Then the mood can swing to a depressive episode, bringing with it a sense of hopelessness, feeling empty emotionally, feeling guilty, worthless and even suicidal. With this comes related problems such as chronic fatigue, difficulty sleeping, lack of concentration and a general loss of interest in daily life. You can feel just totally empty.
The intensity of each mood swing, and the time between them, varies dramatically between sufferers. Some people have only very few bipolar disorder episodes interspersed with years of stability; for others the episodes can be quite frequent. The episodes themselves can vary in length from days to months.
The causes of bipolar disorder are not well understood. In some cases there is clearly a family genetic link, but in others there is no previous history of the problem in the family. Research does show that stress and also physical illness (which in itself can cause stress) may trigger the condition and sometimes the condition can clearly be linked to a specific stressful occurrence in life such as loss and grief, relationship and money problems.
The good news is that today there is real treatment available and while drugs cannot cure the condition, most of the symptoms can be controlled and certainly made a lot more manageable.
The first thing the doctor may do is check that you don’t have an overactive thyroid gland as this can mimic the symptoms of bipolar disorder. Once this has been excluded, then it is likely you may be referred to a psychiatrist who will be able to make a proper diagnosis and then go through the various treatments available.
Probably the most common medication used for bipolar disorder is lithium. This has to be monitored carefully and you need to ensure you maintain steady salt and water levels in your body during the treatment. Sometimes anticonvulsant drugs can be recommended and there is also a range of antipsychotic drugs that can be used.
Away from the medication, cognitive behaviour therapy can help and in some cases there is the opportunity to take part in group therapy.
Every year more is known about this condition and treatment improves. Anyone who suffers from severe mood swings should consider seeking profession advice – there is an enormous amount of help available.
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