By Anita Nasrallah
LAU Tribune contributor
You may notice one day that your friend is acting “weird.” He or she may move from hyperactivity and excessive talking to a sudden depressive mood with little interaction with the outside world. What if it’s a case of bipolar disorder? Do take it seriously.
Bipolar affective disorder is historically known as the manic-depressive disorder. It affects men and women equally, usually starting between the ages of 15 and 25. Even though the exact cause of the illness is still unknown, bipolar disorder occurs more often among relatives of similar cases.
There are three main types of bipolar disorder: Bipolar disorder type I (manic depression), Bipolar disorder type II (hypomania), and cyclothymia.
Type I is the most severe and is characterized by major depression episodes. Type II is not as severe, and is recognized by high energy levels and impulsiveness. This type is the mildest. It involves less severe mood swings. Cyclothymia, on the other hand, involves mild mood swings often over a period of several years.
In most cases, there is not yet a clear cause for manic or depressive episodes. Several things may trigger an episode including: a) major life changes, such as childbirth, b) medications, such as antidepressants or steroids, c) periods of sleeplessness, d) recreational drug use, etc.
These manic phases may last from days to months, depending on the phase the patient has reached.
Symptoms of disorder I include distractions, little need for sleep, poor judgment, poor temper control, recklessness, binge eating, drinking and/or drug use, promiscuity, hyperactivity, excessive talking, very high self-esteem leading to false beliefs and agitation.
In patients with bipolar disorder II, the symptoms are less intense. Depression episodes include daily low mood or sadness, difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions, eating problems, loss of appetite and weight loss or overeating and weight gain, fatigue or lack of energy, feeling worthless, hopeless, or guilty, loss of pleasure in activities once enjoyed, loss of self-esteem, thoughts of death and suicide, trouble getting to sleep or sleeping too much, pulling away from friends or activities that were once enjoyed.
Sometimes the two phases overlap; manic and depressive symptoms may occur together or quickly one after the other in what is called a mixed state. This is known as the cycling episodes of bipolarity.
As one can see, many of the above mentioned symptoms are not exclusive to bipolarity. This is why there are several factors involved in properly diagnosing this disorder.
The health care provider will help in establishing a proper diagnosis after asking about one’s family medical history and about one’s recent mood swings, perform a thorough examination to look for illnesses that may be causing the symptoms, run laboratory tests to check for thyroid problems or drug levels, etc.
Periods of depression or mania return in most patients, even with treatment.
Mood-stabilizing medication can help control the symptoms of bipolar disorder. However, patients often need help and support to take medicine properly and to make sure that mania and depression are treated as early as possible.
Some people stop taking the medication as soon as they feel better or because the mania feels good. Stopping medication can cause serious problems, such as alcohol and/or drug abuse, problems with relationships, work, and finances, as well as relapse.
Patients and people around them must know the risks of not treating bipolar disorder. There is no shame in coming forward and acknowledging this illness to get the proper treatment and support for it.