Written by Kuda Tapatapa 11/12/20
Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that is only ever whispered about. This is despite it being the fourth most common mental health disorder worldwide after depression, anxiety and schizophrenia. This disorder affects how you feel and can cause your mood to swing from extreme highs to extreme lows. The portrayal of people suffering with bipolar disorder as “crazy” often leads to them dealing with their diagnosis in silence to avoid the stigma that comes with it. This stigmatisation is often due to a lack of education which is why it is so important to highlight the complexities of the illness so we can better support those who need it.
The 2 types of Bipolar Disorder
What many people may not know is that Bipolar Disorder comes in two forms- Bipolar 1 and Bipolar 2. Both types are characterised by extreme highs (manic episodes) and lows (depressive episodes). The biggest difference between Bipolar 1 and 2 is the level of severity and disruption caused by the manic episodes. Someone with Bipolar 1 will experience full manic episodes which, if not treated, can lead to hospitalisation. Someone with bipolar 2 disorder will experience less severe hypomania.
What are Manic and Hypomanic Episodes?
Manic episodes can lead to feelings of euphoria, creativity and increased energy. People going through these episodes can feel like they are invincible and on top of the world. Although this can feel great for the individual, it comes with dangerous and reckless behaviour which can spiral out of control, leading to risky investments, aggression, gambling, hypersexuality and substance abuse.
Hypomania is a less severe version of mania. Although you still experience euphoria, increased energy and productivity, you can still carry on with your daily life without losing touch with reality. Hypomania can still lead to decisions that damage your personal life but is more difficult to spot to the outsider. It can appear to outsiders like you are just in an excessively good mood.
What is a Major Depressive Episode?
A major depressive episode is characterised by a lack of pleasure and interest in things you ordinarily enjoy. It often comes with significant changes in weight (increase or decrease), sleep (too much or too little), energy levels (fatigue) and feelings of sadness and hopelessness.
It is important to realise that people with Bipolar Disorder can live ordinary lives and on any regular day they don’t differ much from anyone else. But it is equally important to learn what you can about this illness and be prepared for manic or depressive episodes.
5 ways you can support a friend with Bipolar Disorder…
- Educate yourself. You may never understand exactly what it’s like to have bipolar disorder but reading about it will increase your understanding and empathy and shows your friend that you are taking an interest and care.
- Seek professional help. Bipolar disorder usually needs to be treated and this is nothing to be ashamed of! Encourage your friend to see a professional and offer to attend appointments with them.
- Reduce Stressors. High stress levels can trigger an episode so doing what you can to alleviate stress can be a big help! Ask if there are any tasks you can do for your friend, particularly during pressured periods at University or work.
- Don’t take it personally. During an episode, symptoms may include aggression (manic) and irritability or moodiness (depressive), to name a few. It can be hard not to take these behaviours personally, but try to remember that these are symptoms of the mental illness.
- Be patient. Getting better takes time, even if your friend is on Bipolar medication. Don’t expect a speedy recovery or even a permanent cure. It’s not an illness that will go away, and instead needs to be managed over someone’s lifetime.
We can all work together to reduce the stigma surrounding Bipolar Disorder. If you have Bipolar Disorder or you know someone who does, then please leave a comment and share your thoughts or advice on how people could better support.
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