Understanding Bipolar Disorder

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Bipolar Disorder is a relatively well-known disorder globally. However, it is frequently misunderstood and consistently used out of context.

The definition of ‘Bipolar’ is somewhat self-explanatory, because the prefix ‘Bi-’ means two and the word ‘Polar’ means opposite in character. When put into the context of a person and their emotions, ‘Bipolar’ means having two distinctly different moods.

A more scientific definition is preferred by the National Institute of Mental Health. “Bipolar disorder, also known as 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.” The words bolded represent the two polar emotions.

What exactly is mania? Mania is, as defined by the Medical Dictionary, “An abnormally elated mental state, typically characterized by feelings of euphoria, lack of inhibitions, racing thoughts, insomnia, talkativeness, risk-taking and irritability. In extreme cases, mania can induce hallucinations and other psychotic symptoms.” Therefore, in simpler words, mania is an abnormal and extreme feeling of happiness, which can lead to psychosis. This means that one cannot differentiate between what is real and what is not.

This mania exists simultaneously with depression, as the name of the disorder suggests. It is generally believed that depression is just sadness and feeling hurt for a short period of time. Depression encompasses sadness and feelings of hurt, the extent of which may vary based on the type of bipolar disorder someone may have. The Mayo Clinic terms Depression as a “mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems.”

Depression is a serious illness that affects different people in a multitude of ways. Extreme cases of depression may lead to suicidal thoughts and the inability to actually go through everyday life. Symptoms of depression vary widely and may affect an individual for any period of time without prediction.

Persons who suffer from this bipolar disorder can feel exhilarated and wonderful for a period of time when suddenly, their moods change dramatically to the opposite end of the spectrum. The highs of this disorder are not always termed ‘mania’ but may be ‘hypomania’ which is a less intense, but still extreme version of mania.


There are four types of Bipolar Disorder, namely:

• Bipolar I- this is characterized by at least one manic episode which lasts for a minimum of seven days, or by manic episodes which require immediate emergency care. This type also has major depressive episodes which can last for approximately 2 weeks. The possibility exists that a person can experience episodes, which feature both feelings, when diagnosed with this type of Bipolar Disorder.

• Bipolar II- is characterized by having, at minimum, one depressive and one hypo-manic episode, but never experiencing a manic episode.

• Cyclothymic Disorder- is where you experience multiple depressive and hypomanic symptoms for 2 years for adults or 1 year for children, but never experience an episode of either.

• Other specified or unspecified Bipolar-related Disorders- a person exhibits the symptoms, but are not classified under the three categories listed above.

Although there is significant research on this disorder and its effects, its causes remain mostly unknown. Two well-known and identified causes are:

• Biochemical Changes: essentially, during brain development, there was a chemical imbalance with hormones and neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and norepinephrine.

• Genetic changes: Bipolar Disorder can be hereditary to an extent. First degree family members are more likely to develop Bipolar Disorder. Identical twins, for example, share a close relation and have the same genetic makeup and, therefore, if one developed Bipolar Disorder, the other has an approximated 33-90% chance of developing it too.

Bipolar Disorder, when diagnosed remains with you forever. However, the symptoms can be treated and, ultimately, the episodes’ intensity and frequency can be decreased. The most popular treatment is psychotherapy, along with medicine.

In psychotherapy, an individual talks about their problems and episodes, just like counselling. This allows them an outlet to discuss how their minds perceive their reality.

Other alternative treatment options are:

• Electroconvulsive Therapy: which is where an individual is placed under anesthesia and electric currents flow through the brain triggering a brief seizure, which when the person recovers, can help reduce their depression levels.

• Sleep Medication: this is for those who have sleeping disorders due to their highs. Some forms of mania can keep individuals awake, so this method provides relief.

According to a study done by the Institute of Health, Metric and Evaluation in 2013 and refreshed in July of 2016, Guyana has the lowest Bipolar Disorder ‘healthy life years’ lost rate in South America. This rate has decreased by 3.4% since 1990, with an average decrease of 0.1%

per year. Statistics show that women are more vulnerable to this disorder. While men have an average of 252.3 years per 100,000 men losing ‘healthy life’, women have a ‘healthy life years’ rate for the disorder at approximately 304.7 years per 100,000 women. For both sexes, at ages 25-29, most people lose ‘healthy life years’, meaning this is the age range when they are diagnosed.

An evaluation of your mental health is always very important. Mental issues left untreated can become bigger issues in your daily life. This stops you from fully enjoying what life has to offer.

You may not suffer with bipolar disorder, but it is important that you show your support for persons close to you who may suffer with the disorder.

Support and understanding are two necessities when dealing with persons who experience the symptoms of this disorder. It is easy to become frustrated when friends or family’s moods are ever changing with little notice. It is important to remember that the perception of reality for these persons may differ greatly from yours.

If you are dating someone with the disorder, make sure that you encourage them to live a healthy lifestyle and to seek therapy regularly.

Persons who have this disorder can have a fulfilling life if they stick to treatment regimes. If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of this disorder or any other mental illness, make sure you contact your healthcare provider.

Those who experience suicidal thoughts can use the following hotlines for assistance: Guyana Inter-Agency Suicide Prevention Help Line Telephone numbers: (+592) 223-0001, 223-0009, 600-7896, 623-4444, Email: guyagency@yahoo.com, BBM PINS: 2BE55649, 2BE56020 Twitter: guyanaagency; WhatsApp: +592-600-7896, 592-623-4444; Facebook: Guyana Inter-Agency Suicide Prevention Help Line.


Article Categories:
Issue 30 · Psychological

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