Spotlight on Bipolar


Someone diagnosed with bipolar disorder (formerly known as manic depression) experiences swings in mood from periods of overactive, excited behaviour known as mania to deep depression. Between these severe highs and lows can be stable times. Some people also see or hear things that others around them don't (known as having visual or auditory hallucinations) or have uncommon, unshared, beliefs (known as delusions).

Everybody experiences mood shifts in daily life, but with bipolar disorder these changes are extreme.

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Symptoms may include:

  • feeling euphoric – excessively ‘high'
  • restlessness
  • extreme irritability
  • talking very fast
  • racing thoughts
  • lack of concentration
  • sleeping very little
  • a feeling a sense of own importance
  • poor judgement
  • excessive and inappropriate spending
  • increased sexual drive
  • risky behaviour
  • misusing drugs/alchohol
  • aggressive behaviour.

A person may be quite unaware of these changes in their attitude or behaviour. After a manic phase is over, they may be quite shocked at what they've done and the effect that it has had.

You feel like you're a genius, you feel you're the only person in the world who can see it the right way.

Sometimes, people experience a milder form (less severe and for shorter periods) of mania known as hypomania. During these periods people can actually become very productive and creative and so see these experiences as positive and valuable. However, hypomania, if left untreated, can become more severe, and may be followed by an episode of depression.

Symptoms may include:

  • a sense of hopelessness
  • feeling empty emotionally
  • feeling guilty
  • feeling worthless
  • chronic fatigue
  • difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • weight loss or gain/changes in appetite
  • loss of interest in daily life
  • lack of concentration
  • being forgetful
  • suicidal feelings

The lows, the nothing. There's nothing left in you. You're beyond tears, you're even beyond thought.

Some people have very few bipolar disorder episodes, with years of stability in between them; others experience many more. Episodes can vary in both length and frequency from days to months, with varying lengths of time in between.

Although some people may cope very well in between episodes, many still experience low-level symptoms in these relatively ‘stable’ periods which still impact on their daily lives.

The current diagnoses in the UK are likely to be:

  • Bipolar I – characterised by manic episodes – most people will experience depressive periods as well, but not all do.
  • Bipolar II – characterised by severe depressive episodes alternating with episodes of hypomania.
  • Cyclothymic disorder – short periods of mild depression and short periods of hypomania.
  • Rapid cycling – four or more episodes a year. These can be manic, hypomanic, depressive or mixed episodes.
  • Mixed states – periods of depression and elation at the same time.