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Bipolar Disorder: Understanding Frequent Elation & Depression

Updated: Mar 23, 2023

As the term ‘bipolar’ suggests, bipolar disorder is a medical health condition characterised by mood swings ranging from depressive lows to manic highs. An individual suffering from bipolar disorder does not know when he will experience a sudden outburst of joy and when he will feel low to the point of having thoughts of self-harm. For this behavioral pattern of going to and fro around highs and lows, bipolar disorder is also called manic depression.

Living with bipolar disorder means living between two extreme, polar-opposite realities, elation and depression. Bipolar disorder is not as simple as it seems. It isn’t always about dealing with one of the two extremities simultaneously. Instead, it can have many variations. A couple of them is given below:

Type 1: This variation of Bipolar disorder is associated with feeling extreme highs and lows. The behavioral pattern of an individual may range from being irritable to invincible. The manic episodes are characterized by the symptoms such as rapid speech, sleeplessness, and impulsive actions.

On the other hand, depressive episodes manifest themselves in many ways ranging from feeling low and gloomy to having suicidal thoughts. Excessive or no sleep, restlessness, and slowness are other symptoms of depressive low that lie in between.

Type 2: This variation of bipolar disorder involves more depressive lows than manic highs. The time an individual spends being gloomy is more than the time he spends being overjoyed. The symptoms of both joy and depression remain the same as type 1. However, this variation can be more fatal as the consistent striking of negative thoughts may even result in self-harm.

Causes of Bipolar Disorder

The exact cause of bipolar disorder is still unknown, yet several factors may be involved.

Genetics: If you have a first-degree relative, that is, a sibling or parent who is or has had bipolar disorder, chances are that you will also encounter the same problem. However, the degree of the condition may vary. Genes involved in causing bipolar disorder are still unknown, and research is being made to find that out.

Medication, drugs and alcohol: The use of certain medications and intake of drugs and alcohol regularly and beyond the safe levels can also lead to the development of the bipolar disorder. When exposed to high levels of drugs and alcohol, there is an abnormal increase in the neurotransmitter dopamine. Drugs like marijuana and heroin can activate the neurons as their chemical structures mimic that of a neurotransmitter that occurs naturally in the human body.

Childhood trauma: Experts believe that being exposed to traumatic incidents and excessive distress in childhood increases the probability of developing bipolar disorder, as such incidents hinder the individual’s capacity to manage their emotions.

Brain Chemistry: Researchers think that a key player that serves as the cause of bipolar disorder is the brain's complex chemistry. There are strong connections between the neurons in healthy brains. This results from one of the brain’s functions: pruning itself and removing unused or faulty neural connections.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, scientists have discovered that the brain’s functioning is disrupted in people with bipolar disorder. It means their neurons go haywire, and they do not function as a map for activities being carried out by the individual. This results in the creation of a network that is impossible to navigate. With only confusing signals as a guide, people develop abnormal thoughts and behaviors.

Also, psychotic symptoms like disorganized speech and behavior, delusional thoughts, paranoia and hallucinations can emerge during extreme phases of bipolar disorder. This is attributed to the overabundance of the neurotransmitter dopamine.

Medication: Is there any cure?

Bipolar Disorder can even be chronic and lifelong. However, it is controllable through specific medications.

Certain medications like lithium can help manage scary thoughts and behaviors by stabilizing moods. These mood-stabilizing medications decrease abnormal activity in the brain, thereby strengthening viable neural connections.

Other frequently used medications include antipsychotics, which alter the effects of the neurotransmitter dopamine, and electroconvulsive therapy, which works like a carefully controlled seizure in the brain. It is sometimes used as an emergency treatment.

What do statistics say?

According to statistics, around 250,000 people in France were given medical treatment for bipolar disorder in 2019. The number of people diagnosed with the disorder is even higher. Let alone the patients suffering from this medical condition without being diagnosed. Of the 250,000 patients treated, 93,000 belonged to the age group of 35-54.

In France, the number of patients who experience more depressive symptoms while suffering from bipolar disorder is more than those who suffer from manic and depressive symptoms. Thus, while going for medical treatment, patients in France are prescribed less lithium and antipsychotic treatment than in other European countries. Instead, antidepressants are used more in the country. The use of electroconvulsive and anticonvulsants remains equal.

Some bipolar disorder patients, irrespective of their nationality, reject medical treatment as they believe it hinders their natural emotions. They go with the belief that medical treatment not only dims their emotions but also destroys their creativity. But modern psychiatry is actively trying to avoid that. Today, doctors work with patients on a case-by-case basis to incorporate a combination of treatment and therapies that allows them to live to their fullest potential.

Patients suffering from this disorder can also opt for treatment beyond medications. This treatment does not require any complex processes but simple lifestyle changes. Incorporating regular exercises, developing good sleeping habits, and practicing sobriety from drugs and alcohol must be done. Having a nutrition-rich diet also lays positive effects on mental health conditions. Not to mention, the acceptance and empathy of friends and family are a must.

It should be kept in mind that bipolar disorder is a medical condition and not a person’s fault or their whole identity. It can be controlled through a combination of medications and therapies and incorporating specific lifestyle changes doing their work internally and with friends and family fostering acceptance and understanding on the outside. Patients with bipolar disorder should also encourage themselves to find balance in their lives.

----------- Gahana Thorat

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