Nov 18

Bipolar Disorder: Caught between depression and excitement

John always felt that his wife was ‘changeful’ – but it took both of them years to find out that she was in fact suffering from so-called ‘bipolar disorder’. People with what was formerly called ‘manic depressive disorder’ cycle between unusually intense emotional states that occur in distinct periods: ‘manic episodes’ are defined by overly joyful or overexcited states, and ‘depressive episodes’ by extremely sad or hopeless feelings. However, sometimes symptoms of one state may also occur during the other, depending on the variation of the disorder which has been estimated to afflict about one of every 45 adults, independent of sex, culture or ethnic group.

One of the most common problems of persons dealing with this disorder is that they have serious difficulty set ting and achieving goals and maintaining stable relationships in their lives. During their manic episodes, they often experience an increase in energy, set themselves highly ambitious goals and might break up their relationships with people they consider as inferior or slowing them down. They tend to self-medicate, often through substance abuse (particularly stimulants or depressants, alcohol, cocaine or sleeping pills). Some of them tend to gambling, others might become aggressive or violent or experience a break with reality. As soon as the depressive episode kicks in, almost nothing of that remains: now, feelings of sadness, anxiety and guilt are dominating, and the person might feel isolated and hopeless. The formerly high sexual drive now almost disappears, fatigue, apathy or even suicidal thoughts may occur: The rate of bipolar patients committing suicide at certain points in their lives is very high.

Today, we still know little about the causes for bipolar disorders, but studies have indicated a substantial genetic contribution, as well as environmental influence (like an unstable or traumatic childhood). It is also likely that certain triggers are required to cause an outbreak of the disorder in some people, particularly relationship issues, cultural or job-related stress or physical illness. The basis of treatment usually consists of medication (which especially for this kind of disorder should really only be prescribed by a psychiatrist!) and complimentary psychotherapy to work on environmental triggers and efficiently learn to deal with the symptoms. The prognosis for most individuals with bipolar disorder is a good one – provided that they were diagnosed accurately and received the correct treatment.

(This short article is part of a weekly series dealing with psychological expat problems and general mental health issues and was published in various newspapers and magazines in Thailand, 2010)

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