Bi-polar disorder has gained some bad press over the years, with TV programmes presenting their bi-polar characters as ‘unhinged’ and ‘mad’. The reality is that, because it’s such a common condition, the chances are you know someone – or a few people – with the disorder. But with today’s effective mood-stabilising drugs, unless they explicitly tell you, you’d likely be none-the-wiser.
At London Doctors Clinic, our doctors are trained in recognising the tell-tale symptoms of mental health conditions such as bi-polar disorder. If you feel as though your changeable moods are taking over your life and affecting your relationships, especially after reading this article, it might be worth booking in an appointment with one of our private GP’s, to discuss the matter further.
What Is Bi-Polar Disorder?
Bi-polar disorder used to be called manic depression, but the name has since been changed to better reflect people’s experience of this recognised medical illness, which mostly affects your emotional well-being and happiness.
Bi-polar Disorder Symptoms
Bi-polar disorder is characterised by severe and extreme mood swings, which usually appear first between the early teen years and the forties, affecting both men and women equally.
We are all familiar with the subtle shifts in mood that we experience every day, but the mood swings of bi-polar disorder can be much more obvious and prolonged. The disorder may significantly affect your behaviour and your lifestyle, even when you try to ensure it doesn’t. These moods may alternate between feeling really low and depressed, or feeling “high”, as though you are full of energy and pleasure, and you have little need for sleep.
The Two Phases of Bi-Polar Disorder
As we have just mentioned, there are normally two phases to bi-polar disorder: depression and mania. For some people, only the mania will be experienced, but the disorder (if diagnosed) will still be referred to as bi-polar disorder.
The Lows: Depression
Depression can be a painful experience, and you will often be able to recognise that something is amiss. You may feel very low and tired, or lose interest in doing the things you enjoy when you are well. You may find that your sleeping or eating pattern changes, or that you feel sad, anxious or guilty most of the time.
Other symptoms of depression include having headaches or chronic aches and pains, and not knowing the reason why. In extreme cases, you may even think that you would be better off dead, with people who have bi-polar disorder 20 times more likely to commit suicide.
Depression can be a painful experience
The Highs: Mania
Mania is, in many ways, the opposite of depression. It is less recognisable, and even pleasurable. If you are truly manic, you might find that you don’t want to change your mood back to “normal”, as you will feel so good! You will be full of life, over talkative, and you may engage in certain behaviours (such as spending large amounts of money, or engaging in unsafe sex) that are not normal for the person you usually are.
The Impact of Bi-Polar Disorder on Your Life
These moods will be so extreme (bi-polar) that they will affect your usual pattern of everyday living considerably, and you will be aware that you can’t just “snap out” of them as you wish.
With this condition, you might find that you have periods of alternating moods like those we have described above, but you may be your normal self for months, or even years, in between.
Should I Be Worried By My Mood Changes?
If your changeable moods seem extreme to you, or have been remarked upon by concerned and well-meaning family members or friends, then it might be time to get yourself checked out by your GP, who will listen carefully to your concerns. It may be that your changing moods are normal for you, and there is nothing to worry about, but sometimes other medical causes can cause mood changes, so it’s best to know for sure.
Diagnosing a Mental Health Condition
Many people still perceive a stigma attached to mental health conditions, but these days attitudes are changing quickly, and there is no need to conceal your concerns about your mood swings through shame or embarrassment.
The sooner you recognise your symptoms, the sooner you can get a diagnosis and the help you may need, the sooner you can get back to feeling like yourself again!
Your GP or private GP will be used to dealing with these types of concerns, and will completely understand if you may feel a bit shy or anxious broaching the subject.
You can expect your GP to ask you lots of questions about your symptoms, and he or she may carry out other medical tests (such as blood tests) to rule out other possible causes of your symptoms. In some cases, your GP might refer you to a specialist Doctor, who is more experienced in diagnosing and treating mood disorders such as bi-polar disorder.
Managing Bi-Polar Disorder: Mood Stabilising Medications
The great news is that there is definitely light at the end of the tunnel, as most cases of bi-polar disorder can be successfully treated with medication called “mood stabilisers”.
Lithium is the drug that is considered best to use, and it works effectively in three quarters of patients.
For the other quarter of sufferers who do not find much relief from Lithium, there are other options available, such as Carbmazepine, Valproate, or antidepressant medications, and these are either used on their own, or in combination with Lithium. Your Doctor will know which treatment is right for you.
Non-Medical Bi-Polar Management
In addition to medication, psychotherapy or counselling is helpful in providing support and guidance for the person and their family, and can help you to develop routines that help keep your mood stable, help you come to terms with your illness, and teach you to identify and manage any relapses that may occur.
To ensure that you stay well with bi-polar disorder, here are our top 7 tips you might like to try, to best manage your mood:
2. Join a support group – many are available – or ask your GP to advise you of a local one
3. Carefully follow the treatment regimen your Doctor has set out for you, and contact your Doctor before making any changes to your treatment
4. Encourage your loved ones to look out for you, and get involved in helping you to deal with the illness
5. Chose a close relative or friend, and teach them how to spot the signs of a relapse; if they notice that you are not quite yourself, they can step in and offer you support and assistance
6. Take care of yourself – get plenty of sleep, eat well, and avoid smoking and alcohol. Keep stress to a minimum!
7. Stick to a daily routine – if your illness is under control, most people can go to work, drive and carry on as normal. Keeping to more or less the same routine every day is good for you, and helps to keep your moods nice and stable.
Learn about your condition online through websites such as Bi Polar UK and Mind
So whether you’re concerned you’re displaying the symptoms of bi-polar disorder, or you’ve recently been diagnosed and want a second opinion, or if you’re struggling to manage the condition, speak to one of our doctors today for the advice and help you may need. Simply select our locations page to find a GP closest to you and book easily online or by telephone. Our GPs can answer many of your concerns regarding this condition, in a sensitive and respectful manner.
By Melissa Dillon