Bipolar Disorder

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In our everyday lives, we often hear, read or talk about mental health. But what is it that the term actually means? According to the World Health Organization , mental health is not just the absence of mental disorder and is defined as a state of well-being. Being mentally healthy means that you engage in productive activities that help you grow and develop. It means you have fulfilling relationships that make you feel happier, stronger and supported. And most importantly, being mentally healthy means you have the ability to adapt and cope with adversity or stress when it happens.

Although many people the world over are living contented lives in a positive state of mental health, mental disorders are commonly occurring and often seriously impairing a significant proportion of the world’s population.

Bipolar disorder, also called manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. It is associated with mood swings that range from the highs of mania on one extreme, to the lows of depression on the other. According to the National Institute of Mental Health , bipolar disorder often develops in a person's late teens or early adult years, with at least half of all cases starting before age 25.

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A person with bipolar suffers from bipolar episodes characterised by states of mania and depression, which can occur in distinct episodes or can switch rapidly, even multiple times in one week. A person who is experiencing a severe bipolar episode may also have psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations or delusions.

Symptoms of mania can include:

  • Feeling excessively happy or euphoric for an extended period of time
  • An abnormally increased level of irritability, agitation or jumpiness
  • Overconfidence or an extremely inflated self-esteem
  • Increased talkativeness
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Engaging in risky behavior, such as spending sprees and impulsive sex
  • Racing thoughts and easily distractible, jumping quickly from one idea to another

Symptoms of depression can include:

  • Diminished capacity for pleasure or loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • An extended period of feeling hopeless, helpless or low self-esteem
  • Low energy, feeling constantly tired
  • Inability to concentrate and make simple decisions
  • Changes in eating, sleeping or other daily habits
  • Being agitated or slowed down in movement, speech or thought
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviour 
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The exact cause of bipolar is unknown, but experts do believe that genetics play a part as bipolar disorder tends to run in families. People with bipolar disorder also seem to have physical differences in brain structure. The significance of these differences is still uncertain but may eventually help pinpoint causes. In addition, there is growing evidence that environmental factors such as stress, abuse or drug use affect the severity of the disorder.

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The first step in getting a proper diagnosis is to talk to your doctor, who may conduct a physical examination, an interview and lab tests. Bipolar disorder cannot currently be identified through a blood test or a brain scan, but these tests can help rule out other conditions that may be causing your symptoms. Your doctor may then choose to conduct a comprehensive mental health evaluation, or provide a referral to a trained mental health professional to carry out the evaluation.

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Bipolar disorder has no cure, but proper treatment helps most people with the disorder to gain better control of their mood swings and related symptoms. Because bipolar disorder is a lifelong and recurrent illness, people with the disorder need long-term treatment to maintain control of their symptoms. An effective treatment plan usually includes medication and psychotherapy for preventing relapse and reducing the severity of symptoms.

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