What is bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a type of mood disorder. People with the disorder have mood swings that can go from extreme highs to extreme lows. While typical mood swings last very short amounts of time, those with bipolar disorder may experience swings from lows (depression) to highs (mania) that last for several weeks at a time. It may even become difficult for the person to feel aware of what their “normal” mood is.
Bipolar disorder affects mood but also has a large impact on behaviour, energy levels, and one’s ability to function normally. Because each person’s experience with bipolar disorder is different, the rate at which their moods change, and the behaviour that goes along with it is different from one person to the next. In the same way, symptoms can vary from person to person as well.
Symptoms of Lows (Depression)
- Feelings of extreme sadness or hopelessness
- Feelings of guilt
- Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Inability to concentrate and focus
- Appetite/weight change
- Changes in sleep pattern
- Thoughts of death or suicide
Symptoms of Highs (Mania)
- Unrealistic/grandiose ideas or beliefs
- Sleeping very little
- Very energetic
- Impulsiveness and Impaired Judgement
- Racing thoughts
- Not eating
- Rapid speech
- Disturbed or illogical thinking
Causes of Bipolar Disorder
While the exact cause of bipolar disorder is unknown, it is thought that there is a mixture of multiple factors that can cause a person to develop the disorder. Generally speaking, bipolar disorder occurs when there is a chemical imbalance in the brain. This imbalance of noradrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine impacts how a person’s brain works. When levels of certain chemicals are too high or too low, different mood swings and symptoms present themselves.
Genetics are thought to play one of the largest roles in the development of bipolar disorder. The disorder seems to run in families, meaning that those who have bipolar relatives have a higher likelihood of also becoming bipolar at some point in life. It is important to know that the disorder typically presents itself somewhere between late childhood to early adulthood. Some people who are genetically predisposed to developing bipolar disorder may never actually get it. This is because one’s genes interact with environmental factors (triggers) which ultimately can lead to different outcomes. Triggers can include things like abuse, a bad breakup, death of a loved one, physical illness, or intense stress over long periods of time.
How can having bipolar disorder affect me as a carer?
Like any mental illness, bipolar disorder can have a significant impact on a carer’s caring role if it is not handled properly. During periods of mania or depression, a carer may feel as though they either cannot bring themselves to care for their loved one or are so impulsive, they make poor decisions while caring. When caring for someone, it is essential that the carer is attentive and aware of their surroundings. However, during periods of mania, people sometimes are forgetful and may not remember things that they did. While these things may seem scary, the good news is that bipolar disorder is treatable so that it will end up having less of a severe impact on one’s life.
Bipolar disorder can best be treated through the use of counselling and medication. The medication is able to help to correct any chemical imbalances in the brain, while the counselling can help to address any feelings, thoughts, or behaviours that arise as a result of the cycling throughout normal mood, mania, and depression. Sometimes even improving diet, exercising more, and getting proper amounts of sleep can help someone with bipolar disorder feel more in control and prevent the swinging of moods.
If you are looking after someone who has bipolar disorder and think that you may need a little bit of extra support, we Suffolk Carers Matter would be happy to help. We offer free support, advice, and guidance and even have a free counselling service available should you need it!
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