It is world bipolar day on March 30 every year. This day is scheduled to increase awareness of a serious mental illness that affects over 1m people in the UK alone. We want to help spread awareness of the condition, so this article aims at explaining what bipolar disorder is and information about what can help. 

Bipolar disorder is identified by two mood states; depression and mania. Additionally, there is also hypomania, a milder form of mania and cyclothymia, a condition related to bipolar with milder symptoms. Bipolar can be classified as bipolar 1 and bipolar 2 each with different balances of mood states. The experience people have can differ  greatly, with some experiencing a change in mood quickly and others having longer intervals. The extreme nature of the disorder means that it can be difficult to maintain relationships or careers.

It is often difficult to diagnose bipolar due to the changes in moods. The symptoms can vary depending on which mood you are experiencing. Bipolar UK estimate it takes approximately nine years to get a diagnosis in the UK. It is not uncommon for people with bipolar to be initially diagnosed with depression or anxiety. Not everyone with bipolar will suffer with psychosis symptoms, however some people will. Common psychotic symptoms can include paranoia, delusions and hallucinations. Psychosis occurs when you perceive the reality around you through your dreaming brain, which will be vastly different to the reality experienced by others. 


Symptoms of bipolar


During a period of depression, your symptoms may include feeling sad, empty, worthless or hopeless. You may feel that you lack energy or motivation to do anything. A loss of interest in most everyday activities can occur and you may begin to distance yourself from your family and friends. You may have difficulty in remembering things and have difficulty in sleeping. It’s likely that you begin to think illogically and start to doubt yourself and your decisions. 

During a mania phase you are likely to feel very happy and overjoyed. Things will excite you and you will have loads of ideas and make lots of plans. You may find that you are easily distracted and shift your focus from one idea to another very quickly. An abundance of energy means you may move and talk very quickly. You may not be able to sleep, eat or sit still for long periods of time. You may become very carefree and undertake activities or say things that are out of character and potentially risky. Often a person in this phase will be unaware and may become shocked at their behaviour after the event. 


Bipolar diagnosis


A diagnosis of bipolar 1 can be assigned if you have experienced at least one episode of mania. This usually will have lasted longer than a week and you will have suffered some episodes of depression. A diagnosis of bipolar 2 is likely to be assigned if you have had at least one depressive episode. In addition, you may have experienced symptoms of mania that has lasted at least four days. Rapid cycling is when you have regular episodes of mania and depression. You may switch between the two with very little stability in between. If the gaps between the two moods are longer but still regular then you may get a diagnosis of cyclothymia.


Causes of Bipolar


As with any mental health problem, it is often difficult to determine the exact cause and Bipolar is no different. Some experiences which have been linked to Bipolar include childhood trauma and distress, such as neglect or abuse. Experiences of this kind create a lot of emotional distress which can impact you later in life. Stressful life such as divorce, grief, poverty have also been linked to Bipolar. Stress can trigger changes in moods or may make symptoms more difficult to manage. There has been lots of research on neurotransmitters and genetics, but there is no direct evidence of a causation link. 


Treating Bipolar


Bipolar can be managed with a range of tools and medication. The medication usually consists of mood stabilisers, often lithium, which need to be taken long term. Additionally, you may be prescribed medication specific to depression and / or mania. Following general lifestyle wellbeing advice is usually recommended. This can include regular exercise, maintaining a routine, regular sleep pattern and healthy eating. Psychological treatment and support is generally very helpful and can provide tools to recognise triggers and episode signs. There is nearly always a trauma component to bipolar, so it can be helpful to get some therapeutic help to process the trauma. This can in some cases resolve the bipolar behaviour almost completely. 


Stigma associated with Bipolar


There is a lack of awareness about bipolar disorders. This can create naïve responses from people who do not understand the disorder, especially since bipolar disorder receives a lot of negative media coverage. This creates a stigma that everyone with it is crazy and needs to be hospitalised. The stigma can create additional difficulties in relationships and induce shame. Someone with bipolar may prefer to hide their diagnosis from others to avoid rejection. The best way to reduce the negative stigma is to educate others. When people know more about the disorder they can understand and look at the situation realistically.  


How can we help at New Life Therapy?


We utilise a combined science-based approach to support our clients. This framework enables us to see where a person’s life is not working well. We can then tailor individual solutions using a combination of effective psychological interventions, education and direct practical support. The framework provides an overarching approach to ‘wellbeing’ providing what we all need to live fulfilled and satisfying lives. We focus on solutions rather than labels and as specialist trauma therapists we will address the trauma elements of the condition. This can result in less triggers and lengthier periods of time without mania or depression. 

At the core of our approach is that all human beings have a set of needs. If these needs are appropriately met then the person will flourish. Mental health issues occur when our emotional needs are not met or when our innate resources are not working properly. We will work with you to develop a plan for your treatment. Within that treatment plan we will suggest a variety of beneficial techniques that you can adapt into your life. We will work with you to set goals that you can work on in between sessions and increase your progress. We will use guided imagery techniques to help you both view and achieve those goals. 


How can you help?


Even if you do not know someone with Bipolar you can make an impact which will make a significant difference. Having a basic understanding of common mental health issues is vital in reducing the associated stigmas. Be kind to others as you never know fully what anyone is going through. When you ask people how they are, listen to the answer without judgement. Be available to have an honest discussion with someone who is struggling. Often the best thing you can offer someone is to hear them. You don’t always have to offer advice, being supportive is often enough.

Mental Health awareness has increased exponentially in recent years but there is still a long way to go. Talking about mental health reduces the stigma attached to it. Be honest about any struggles you may have had. Share motivational mental health posts on social media and increase awareness. Bipolar UK are urging the UK to use social media to help share information and get the event’s hashtags trending. If you have an account, use the hashtag today on #worldbipolarday and let’s, get people talking about mental health matters.

I hope that this article has been of interest to you. As always, if you know of someone who would benefit from reading it, then please share it with them. Or why not head over to our website for more information, downloads and resources. 

With warmest wishes


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