What is Bipolar mood disorder?

BMD is a mental illness that involves mood swings from overly “high” and irritable (known as manic symptoms or mania) to severely sad and hopeless (known as depressive symptoms). The mood jumps between these two extremes with changes in thoughts and behaviours as well and periods of normal mood in between. BMD is similar to other lifelong illnesses – such as high blood pressure and diabetes – in that it cannot be “cured”. It can be managed and with proper management, most patients return to productive lives.

Around 85% of people who have a first episode of BMD will have another which makes maintenance treatment is essential.

How can I tell the difference between BMD and ordinary mood swings?

Mood swings that come with bipolar disorder are severe, ranging from extremes in energy or “highs” to deep despair. The severity of the mood swings and the way they disrupt normal activities distinguish clinical mood episodes from ordinary mood changes.

When the mood swings are tracked over time, patterns can be seen with daily, weekly, monthly and even seasonal changes in mood.

Mania (the “highs”)

  • Increased physical and mental activity and energy, for example staying up all night and talking very fast
  • Heightened mood, optimism and self-confidence
  • Excessive irritability and aggressive behaviour
  • Decreased need for sleep without experiencing tiredness
  • Racing speech and thoughts
  • Impulsiveness and poor judgment
  • Being easily and regularly distracted
  • Reckless behaviour, for example having unprotected sex with strangers In the most severe cases, delusions and hallucinations

Depression (the “lows”)

  • Long-lasting sadness or unexplained crying spells
  • Noticeable changes in appetite and sleep patterns
  • Irritability, anger, worry, agitation, anxiety
  • Pessimism, indifference, apathy
  • Loss of energy or feeling constantly tired
  • Feelings of guilt and worthlessness
  • Inability to concentrate Inability to make decisions
  • Not finding pleasure in things you usually find enjoyable
  • Unexplained physical aches and pains
  • Social withdrawal
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide In the most severe cases, delusions and hallucinations

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