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A Brief Guide to Bipolar

Today is World Bipolar Day, so it’s an excellent time to highlight the condition and raise awareness. The date was selected because it’s Vincent Van Gogh’s birthday and he is believed to have suffered with bipolar. Bipolar disorder was previously called manic depression and there is no distinction between the two: they are the same mental illness.

What is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder is characterised by episodes of mania and depression. Each episode has its own set of symptoms. During manic episodes, people with bipolar may feel “high” and very productive. They can feel full of energy and inspiration, which can lead to impulsive behaviours like overspending. Other symptoms of mania include not sleeping or eating and becoming irritated very quickly.

During episodes of depression, people with bipolar may feel lethargic, unmotivated and very low. Other symptoms of depression include disturbed sleep, an increase or decrease in appetite and withdrawing from other people. It is common for people with bipolar to be diagnosed with depression initially, as episodes of mania may not manifest for a long period of time — even years.

What treatments are available?

As with any mental illness, there are a range of treatments and strategies which can help to manage bipolar. These include medication, including mood stabilisers and antidepressants, and talking therapies. Lifestyle changes, such as regular exercise, a healthy diet and developing good sleep hygiene, can also be very effective.

Where can people get help and information?

Your GP can help you to access various forms of treatment and provide advice. However, there are some very useful online resources:

The NHS website provides information on bipolar disorder and treatment options.

Bipolar UK has a wealth of information relating to different aspects of bipolar. It also has an online eCommunity and a support line offering advice and information.

Mind also has a lot of information, including how friends and family can help.

Time to Change has blogs and personal stories on bipolar, which are not only informative, but can help people with bipolar to feel less isolated.

If you think you or someone you know might have bipolar disorder, please don’t hesitate to visit your GP. Early intervention — as with all mental illness — can not only save lives, but prevent a lot of unnecessary suffering and help people to lead happy, productive lives.

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