Mar 2019 2nd Edition

The highs and lows of being bipolar

Written by Allison Cooper

While there are various bipolar disorders, the main one, previously known as manic depression, is a mental health condition that causes extreme changes in mood from emotional highs (mania) to lows (depression), with periods of a normal mood in between.

Dr Eddie Pak, a psychiatrist based at the Gauteng Department of Health’s Sterkfontein Psychiatric Hospital in Krugersdorp, explains that it is perfectly normal for people to have different moods and to feel happy or sad, as various things happen in their life. 

“Bipolar disorder, however, is when someone experiences extreme mood changes, for no apparent reason. The changes tend to be episodic, last longer and interfere with daily life,” he says.

Bipolar symptoms

According to a guide to bipolar  disorder produced by the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), the symptoms of the manic phase include:

  • Feeling excessively good and nothing can change their happiness;
  • Extreme optimism;
  • A lack of good judgement which puts patients at the risk of drug abuse and recklessness;
  • Being hyperactive for days with little or no sleep;
  • Changing from topic to topic in conversation, and speaking quickly and loudly;
  • Becoming enraged for no reason or when someone suggests that their plans are unreasonable.

“If a manic episode is not treated in time, it could result in psychosis and the person could lose touch with reality. They can start believing things that are not real and become angry and aggressive. Manic episodes are easy for others to recognise, because they are so dramatic,” says Dr Pak.

These episodes are followed by severe depression, with the same symptoms as regular clinical or major depression which include the following feelings:

  • Sadness
  • Guilty or hopeless;
  • Not wanting to get out of bed or wanting to sleep but often not being able to sleep;
  • Having little energy and feeling weak and tired;
  • Loss of appetite, loss of interest in activities and feeling worthless.

“A depressive episode can also lead to psychosis, where people lose touch with reality. In severe cases, they want to harm themselves and can become suicidal,” says Dr Pak.

The good news is that help is on hand. “If someone has been properly diagnosed, is on the correct treatment and the treatment is properly managed, they can lead a fully functioning life,” says Dr Pak.  \

If you think that you or someone you love is suffering from a bipolar disorder, visit your closest mental health clinic, hospital or doctor as soon as possible.

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