Counselling can be helpful for coming to terms with bipolar disorder, identifying the warning signals, managing its impact on daily life and sustaining good health.
Please contact me to book an appointment or find out more about how counselling could help you.
What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression, causes severe mood swings. It is a bit like being on an emotional rollercoaster ride that can last for hours, days or months. The highs (mania) often bring a sense of being on top of the world and able to achieve and do anything (sometimes regardless of reality), whilst the lows (depression) can feel like a bottomless pit of despair and self-loathing. For some people with bipolar disorder it seems that the higher they fly, the harder they fall.
There are several types of bipolar disorder. The most common are Bipolar I Disorder, which is the most severe form and is identified by its extreme manic episodes and Bipolar II Disorder which is characterised by a less severe form of mania called hypomania. People who experience hypomania often say that it can feel good and that they have a heightened sense of wellbeing whilst they are in this phase of the disorder. As one person described, “It’s a bit like having a two pint buzz.” Because of this Bipolar II Disorder can be misdiagnosed as depression because the sufferer often reports only the depressive symptoms, putting the hypomanic symptoms down to having a particularly good day. If untreated, hypomania can go on to develop into an episode of full blown mania.
Bipolar disorder can be very disruptive to normal life and can cause all sorts of problems resulting in relationships breaking down, jobs being lost, massive debts being incurred and so on. It can also be very hard going on family, friends and work colleagues.
What causes Bipolar Disorder?
There is evidence that bipolar disorder can be inherited, although not everyone who is diagnosed with it has a family history of the disorder. There is also evidence that significantly difficult life events or problems play an important factor in the development of bipolar disorder in someone who is predisposed to it. Whilst there is no one particular type of person who develops bipolar disorder, there are a high number of people who are diagnosed with it who tend to strive for perfection and achievement in their lives.
Although some studies show a difference in brain chemistry with people with bipolar disorder and other groups, the findings are inconsistent and there is insufficient evidence to show that abnormalities in brain function are responsible.
Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
Mania affects people differently, for some the symptoms of mania will be magnifications of a person’s normal character or they may feel completely alien to them once the manic phase has passed. For a diagnosis of mania to be made, the following symptoms must be extreme and last for at least a week.
- Feeling elated, overly optimistic and self-confident
- Feeling superior to others – intellectually, physically and in terms of personal capabilities
- Extreme irritability and restlessness
- Aggressive behaviour, lack of sensitivity and tolerance
- Decreased need for sleep
- Unusually talkative and rapid speech
- Feeling inspired and generating idea after idea
- Persistence to see through ideas despite others resistance
- Poor concentration
- Becoming easily distracted
- Impulsive behaviour
- Increased risk taking – sexual promiscuity, thrill-seeking, drug or alcohol use
- Delusions (strongly believing something is true despite the facts to the contrary) and hallucinations (experiencing something that does not exist)
Like mania, depression affects people differently and its symptoms can be difficult to distinguish from the normal feelings of sadness brought on by the ups and downs of life. For a diagnosis of depression the following symptoms must be present for 2-4 weeks or more.
- Prolonged sadness and tearfulness
- Disturbed sleep and appetite
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Extreme tiredness and lethargy
- Feelings of guilt, shame and worthlessness
- Being overly self-critical
- Difficulty concentrating
- Lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Social withdrawal
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Suicidal thoughts or wishing not to be alive
If you think that you may be suffering with bipolar disorder, you can do a free and confidential online mania screening test with the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Please note that this is only a screening tool. For a proper diagnosis you will need to see your doctor or other appropriate mental health professional. If you have any concerns at all please make an appointment to see your GP.
Help for Bipolar Disorder
Unfortunately, there is no known cure yet for bipolar disorder but with professional support, appropriate medication and good self-help there are a number of things you can do to help relieve its symptoms and manage the impact it has on your life.
The following treatments have been found to help with bipolar disorder and improve wellbeing. It is worth mentioning that because of the complexity of bipolar disorder and the uniqueness of each person, finding the best treatment to suit your particular needs may not happen immediately and may require a few ‘trials and errors’ to get it right for you. It is important that you do not let yourself be put off by this.
- Mood stabilisers can help to dampen down manic or hypomanic episodes, prevent relapses and treat depression. Mood stabilisers can only be prescribed by your GP or other appropriate mental health professional.
- Antidepressants may be used to help to improve mood during the depressive phase. However, there is a risk that antidepressants may trigger mania. Therefore it is usually recommended that bipolar sufferers take a mood stabiliser whilst using antidepressants. As with mood stabilisers, antidepressants can only be prescribed by your GP or other appropriate mental health professional.
- Psychological treatments or talking therapies can be helpful for coming to terms with bipolar disorder, identifying the warning signals, managing its impact on daily life and sustaining good health. If you feel that counselling may help you, please contact Carolyn.
Self-help for Bipolar Disorder
- Take any prescribed medication consistently according to the instructions. Stopping abruptly, or missing a dose can have significant adverse affects. If you are concerned about your medication, talk to your doctor or psychiatrist.
- Eating well enough to keep you nourished and give you energy, even when you may not feel like it, will help. Wholemeal bread, fresh fruit and vegetables, yoghurt and fruit juices are nutritious foods that can be easily prepared.
- Omega-3 fatty acids, when taken in high doses, have shown in some clinical trials to help improve the moods of people with depression and bipolar disorder. You can find Omega-3 in oily fish, such as salmon and sardines, soybeans, walnuts and wheatgerm. There are also a variety of margarine/vegetable spreads and eggs that now contain Omega-3 oils and it can also be found as a food supplement.
- Exercise taken 3 to 4 times a week for 45 to 50 minutes each time has been shown to help alleviate symptoms. This can be any physical activity such as going for a brisk walk, swimming, digging the garden, cycling, going to the gym or doing an exercise video.
- Relaxation strategies can be helpful for reducing physical tension, irritability and restlessness. Planning in regular time to relax is very important. You might choose to listen to soothing music, read a book, have a body massage or follow a relaxation technique such as Progressive Muscle Relaxation.
- Acting as if things are okay whilst you are depressed and continuing with activities that feel worthwhile can help lift your spirits and give a sense of achievement.
- Talking to someone about your feelings can help a problem feel more bearable, even if there still appears to be no solution.
- Participating in safe thrills such as rockclimbing, skiing, hiking, running, surfing or computer games can be a good outlet that provides excitement but does not (if done skillfully) cause risk to your health.
- Avoid alcohol and drugs. Whilst they may seem to temporarily help, they exacerbate risk-taking and the depressant effects will only worsen your moods.
Please note that the information contained on this page is not intended as a substitute for consulting with your doctor or other medical health professional.