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The two faces of Bi-Polar disorder

 The two faces of bipolar disorder (Photo: iStock)

In a viral video two weeks ago, the former Citizen TV journalist, Kimani Mbugua shared his experience with Bipolar Disorder while seeking help from Kenyans. He said that he fell ill in 2020 and has since become homeless.

Fortunately, he managed to get help a few days later.

So what really is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a complex and often misunderstood mental health condition which affects millions of people worldwide. According to World Health Organisation's statistics, in 2022; 1 in every 8 adults in the world suffer from a mental disorder with sixty million living with Bipolar Disorder.

Bipolar Disorder is a condition characterized by extreme mood swings. These fluctuations can be debilitating, impacting various aspects of an individual's life.

The Two Faces of Bi-Polar

Bipolar Disorder presents in two distinct phases: manic and depressive. During manic episodes, individuals experience heightened energy levels, increased creativity, and a decreased need for sleep. They may feel invincible, engage in risky behaviours, and exhibit rapid speech and racing thoughts. These periods can be exhilarating but often lead to impulsivity and poor judgment.

On the flip side, depressive episodes are characterized by profound sadness, loss of interest in activities, severe fatigue, insomnia or oversleeping- hypersomnia and feelings of hopelessness. Suicidal thoughts and behaviours are not uncommon during these episodes.

People with Bipolar Disorder may struggle with daily tasks and struggle concentrating. Sadly, in a society where they are grossly misunderstood, most lose their jobs and relationships.

There are two types of Bipolar disorders I and II. People with Bipolar 1 experience more severe and prolonged manic episodes. The latter has less severe and shorter 'highs', called hypomania.

That, however, does not mean that patients with Bipolar II have it easier, in some cases, they may have longer and more severe depressive episodes. More often than not, they are misdiagnosed with depression, also Major Depressive Disorder (MDD).

The onset of Bipolar Disorder is in early to mid-adulthood, between eighteen to thirties. Others may experience the above symptoms but fail to meet the full criteria for the diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, they are said to have Cyclothymia. The main difference is the onset, of which the aforementioned is before the age of eighteen.

The question of whether or not the children experiencing Cylothymia later develop full-blown Bipolar Disorder is still unanswered.

What causes Bipolar Disorder(s)?

The exact cause is believed to be a result of a complex interplay of genetic, environmental and biological factors. Family history plays a significant role and is usually hereditary or poses a higher risk if a close relative has it.

Additionally, imbalances in brain chemicals like dopamine and serotonin contribute to mood instability.

Adverse Life Events (ALEs), substance abuse, and changes in sleep patterns can trigger or exacerbate bipolar episodes.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosing Bipolar Disorder can be challenging, as its symptoms often overlap with other mental health conditions like Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), Borderline Personality Disorder and/or Anxiety Disorders. A thorough evaluation by a mental health professional, including a psychiatric assessment and medical history review, is crucial for an accurate diagnosis.

Once diagnosed, Bipolar Disorder is highly treatable. Treatment typically involves a combination of psychotherapy, medication, and lifestyle adjustments. Mood stabilizers and anticonvulsants are commonly prescribed to manage mood swings. Antidepressants are used with caution as they can trigger manic episodes in some individuals.

Psychotherapy can help individuals develop coping strategies, identify triggers, and manage their symptoms effectively.

Lifestyle modifications, including maintaining a regular sleep schedule, engaging in regular physical activity, and avoiding alcohol and recreational drugs, are also essential components of managing the disorder.

Breaking the Stigma

Despite advances in our understanding and treatment, stigma remains a significant barrier to diagnosis and treatment.

Many individuals fear judgment and discrimination, leading them to conceal their condition and self-isolate. Most fear being labelled 'mad' or 'potentially dangerous'.

Simple things like saying, 'I have Bipolar' rather than 'I am Bipolar' can go a long way.

As a society, it is crucial to foster a compassionate and supportive environment where those affected feel safe seeking help and openly discussing their experiences.

With proper management, individuals with Bipolar Disorder can lead fulfilling lives.

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