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What is Bipolar disorder? 

Mood swings are often seen as a normal part of adolescence and growing up, however the changes in mood associated with bipolar disorder are not the same as the normal ups and downs every teenager or young adult goes through. In bipolar disorder the mood swings are more extreme and are accompanied by changes in sleep patterns, energy levels, and the ability to think clearly. Bipolar symptoms can affect your performance at school or work, as well as relationships with friends and family members.

In Bipolar disorder, your mood cycles between periods of mania and periods of either normal mood or depression. These cycles (sometimes called episodes) of depression and mania may be daily, monthly, or even years apart.

Someone having a manic episode may:

  • Feel very “up,” “high,” or elated
  • Have a lot of energy
  • Have increased activity levels
  • Feel “jumpy”, or unable to sit still
  • Have trouble sleeping, or suddenly not need sleep
  • Talk really fast, or jump from topic to topic in conversation
  • Be agitated or irritable
  • Experience racing thoughts
  • Think they can do a lot of things at once, or feel invincible
  • Do risky things, like spend a lot of money or have reckless sex

Someone having a depressive episode may:

  • Feel very sad, down, empty, or hopeless
  • Have very little energy
  • Have decreased activity levels
  • Have trouble sleeping, they may sleep too little or too much
  • Stop enjoying their favourite activities
  • Feel worried and empty
  • Have trouble concentrating at school or work
  • Become forgetful
  • Eat too much or too little
  • Feel tired or “slowed down”
  • Think about death or suicide

The three most common types of bipolar disorder are:

Bipolar I disorder which involves periods of severe mood episodes ranging from mania to depression.

Bipolar II disorder which is a milder form of mood elevation, involving milder episodes of hypomania that alternate with periods of severe depression.

Cyclothymic disorder which describes brief periods of hypomaniac symptoms alternating with brief periods of depressive symptoms that are not as intense or as long-lasting as seen in full hypomanic episodes or full depressive episodes.

How does bipolar disorder affect young people? 

Bipolar symptoms usually start between the ages of 15 and 19. This is why it is important for young people, parents and teachers to be aware of the symptoms and signs to look out for, so that affected youth are able to receive treatment as soon as possible.

If untreated bipolar disorder can be extremely serious, and can lead to risky behaviour such as substance use, reckless sexual behaviour, and self harm or suicide. The symptoms may also make it impossible for a young person to complete their education or to be employed. However, with treatment people with bipolar disorder are able to live happy and healthy lives.

What causes bipolar disorder? 

Studies have shown that there are a number of different factors that can lead to the development of bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder tends to run in families. Children with a parent or sibling who has bipolar disorder are much more likely to develop the illness, compared with children who do not have a family history of the disorder. However, having a family history of bipolar disorder does not guarantee that you will develop the disorder, and people without any known family history of the disorder can also develop the illness.

Can bipolar disorder be treated?

Treatment is available for even the most severe forms of bipolar disorder, and can help you to gain better control of your mood swings and other bipolar symptoms. After you have been diagnosed as having bipolar disorder by a mental health professional, they will work with you to create a treatment plan that best suits your individual needs. An effective treatment plan usually includes a combination of medication and psychotherapy (also called “talk therapy”). It is important to understand that bipolar disorder is a lifelong illness.

Different types of medications can help control symptoms of bipolar disorder, and you  may need to try several different medications before finding the ones that work best for you. Medications generally used to treat bipolar disorder include mood stabilizersantipsychotics, and antidepressants.

While remaining treatment compliant (taking your medication as prescribed by your doctor), you may be symptom free. But this does not mean that you can stop taking the medication! it is the medication that is helping to keep your moods stable, and without it you will experience depression or mania again.

Some people with bipolar disorder turn to alcohol and drugs because they feel temporarily better when they’re high. But substance abuse can make the symptoms of bipolar disorder worse. It also makes the condition harder for doctors to diagnose and treat.