The highs, lows of mental health

Jessica Debnam | 5/27/2013, 4:32 p.m.
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It is important to understand the symptoms of bipolar disorder in order to receive the proper treatment and have the opportunity to live a full life. Without treatment, this illness can be life threatening.

Bipolar disorder can be seen as early as the teenage years, and the MHA concludes that 1 in 5 people suffering from this illness commits suicide.

Research is still being conducted to find an answer to what causes bipolar disorder. Studies have shown a connection between those who suffer from bipolar disorder, specifically the two stages of mania and depression, and chemical imbalances in the brain. Genetics have been considered in this study as well, although results have varied and are inconclusive.

The MHA notes traumatic events and regular substance abuse could also contribute to bipolar.

Mania, known as the highs in bipolar disorder, can include, but are not limited to, high-levels of energy, unrelated happy feelings, lack of sleep, increased sex drive, periods of aggression, paranoia and denial. During manic periods, individuals are more likely to take part in risky or risqué behavior. This mood swing can last days, sometimes weeks, before a change is noted. Individuals suffering from mania find that their attention span is short. Creativity seems to increase during periods of mania in many who suffer from bipolar disorder; however, due to short attention spans, several started projects and ideas might go unfinished. It is possible someone during a manic period could become irritable to the point of anger, or experience extreme feelings of elation or excitement known as euphoria.

Depression can include feelings of sadness or guilt, lack of appetite or sexual drive, nervousness, sleeping excessively or insomnia, reckless or suicidal behavior, constant pain that cannot be treated, and thoughts of suicide or death. During these lows, individuals find that activities they normally enjoyed become uninteresting and mundane. Motivation is difficult to find during bouts of depression, isolation is preferred, and those actions only worsen feelings of loneliness and low self-worth.

It is important to understand these symptoms are possible markers for mania and depression, common similarities between multiple cases of bipolar disorder. Every individual who suffers from this disorder manifests symptoms differently.

Organizations and health officials nationwide, including the MHA, let others know that those who struggle with bipolar disorder are not alone.

There are support groups made specifically to help those who struggle with bipolar disorder. The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance is one group focused on providing help in all forms to those in need of support, with branches located throughout the nation. Although some severe cases may need hospitalization and immediate care, most individuals can be treated with medication and psychotherapy.

Psychotherapy, a commonly misunderstood practice, involves allowing those who suffer with bipolar disorder to recognize triggers that could induce mania or depression. Speaking with professionals about these triggers allows people to reduce those negative influences, aim at improving controllable factors, and practice exercises that could lead from a possible episode to remission more quickly.

Regulated medications can also be a contributing factor to controlling bipolar disorder. A common ingredient is lithium, attributed to controlling and stabilizing mood. Sodium valproate is also known as a mood stabilizer with a history in helping those suffering from convulsions as well. Recent studies have added over-the-counter omega 3 fatty acids to the list of items that could help stabilize mood; however, much of that research is new and results vary.

Like all medications and illnesses, it is dangerous to diagnose and medicate bipolar disorder without proper instruction and help from a licensed professional. But, it is important to ask for and get help from the many organizations and health professionals that can provide it.