10 things I Know about Bipolar Disorder

Did you ever meet someone who spoke about something and you thought:

“I have heard about it, but I know so little about it!”

A couple of months ago, one of our members spoke about his/her bipolar journey and triggered my learn more process. I knew the basics, but not the depth and width of it. So I set out to learn with the plan to share my findings with you.

To compose this list, I have gone through Denis Muthuri’s posts on International Bipolar Foundation (ibpf). I have read the study Epidemiology and Burden of Bipolar Disorders in Africa: a Systematic Review of Available Data From Africa by Oluyomi Esan & Arinola Esan. Hours of internet browsing led me to Paul Aloyo’s story where he shares his Bipolar journey, while keeping his job at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT). On You Tube, I found Kenyans telling their stories of survival, love, treatment etc What I am saying is, there is lots of material and testimonies to learn from.

In Kenya, there are approximately 800,000 people diagnosed/living with Bipolar disorder and 88 registered psychiatrists. There are many more who are undiagnosed. To cater for this need, a little over 1% of the Kenya national budget is allocated to mental health.

1. Background

Bipolar disorder was previously known as manic depression. It is a mental disorder that causes periods of depression (very low mood) and periods of abnormally elevated mood. The elevated mood is significant and is known as mania or hypomania

Hypomania is a mood state characterized by persistent impulsiveness and mood elevation (euphoria). It may involve irritation. Hypomania is less severe than full mania.

2. Types

There are 2 types of Bipolar: 

Bipolar I which displays severe mania, which is generally easier to identify than in Bipolar II. Hypomania occurs more often than depession.

Bipolar II disorder’s manic episodes are mild and can pass by unnoticed. Note that depression symptoms in bipolar II occur more often than hypomania.

3 Bipolar vs Depression

Bipolar and Depression (Unipolar Depression) differ that unipolar depression has no manic episodes. As we mentioned above, bipolar II is marked by intervals of hypomania.

4. Triggers

Bipolar disorder can be triggered by pregnancy and obstetric complications, early parental loss (in particular maternal), birth month/season, stressful/traumatic etc

5. Onset

Bipolar disorder commonly begins to show itself in the late teens. Bipolar disorder in the teenage years is serious; it’s often more severe than in adults. Adolescents with bipolar disorder are at high risk for suicide and/or self-harm.

6. Diagnoses and Misdiagnoses

About half of people with bipolar disorder have seen three professionals before being diagnosed correctly.

Anyone evaluated for depression should also be evaluated for a lifetime history of manic or hypomanic episodes to rule out Bipolar.

People with bipolar disorder are frequently misdiagnosed as having depression. As many as 20% of people complaining of depression to their doctor actually have bipolar disorder.

It takes an average of 10 years for people to enter treatment for bipolar disorder after symptoms begin. This is caused in part by delays in diagnosis.

7. Treatment and Management

Medicine is available for the management of bipolar disorder. Talk therapy has also been proven to be very helpful.

Patients with both depression and bipolar disorder respond well to highly structured routines. Creating a routine helps patients know what to expect. Routines also make it easy to follow through with medication management independently.

Family support is very important because we all really want to be supported and loved as we are, by the people we call family.  

8. Aditonal Complications

Most people with bipolar disorder have additional psychiatric conditions (such as substance abuse or anxiety) that can make overall diagnosis very challenging.

Substance abuse is bipolar disorder’s partner in crime. Substance abuse often complicates the diagnosis and treatment of bipolar disorder. Some studies show that as many as 60% of people with bipolar disorder also abuse drugs or alcohol.

Untreated substance abuse can make it virtually impossible to manage the mood-swing symptoms of bipolar disorder if both disorders are present. It can also be hard to make a confident diagnosis of bipolar disorder when someone is actively abusing substances that cause mood swings.

9. Legislation and social accepttance

Bipolar is accepted as a disability in some countries because it can render people unable to work. Even after treament, it can take years before an individual can fully function in a workplace.

Bipolar disorder, like other mental health conditions have the potential to make it difficult for a person to find and keep a job. Once one finds a job, some find it hard to function at work, especially if symptoms blow up and mood swings can be severe.

Extreme Bipolar symptoms can lead to sudden “violent” outbursts and even destruction of property during the very manic phases. This can lead an individual to be excluded from society, hospitalized or even in police custody.

10. Short-term and long-term effects and consequences

The inability to function at work combined with societal misunderstandings can keep people living with Bipolar isolated. It can also consume family resources leading to other family complications and family dynamics that worsen Bipolar disorder.

A Kenyan report by Dr. Ndetei indicated that up to 42 % of psychiatric inpatients in prison were being managed/treated/medicated for bipolar disorder.

Substance abuse, such as alcoholism, that usually accompanies Bipolar Disorder can impoverish a whole family which leaves generational ramifications and re-curring/inherent mental health problems.

Do you know anything about Bipolar Disorder? Do you know someone who lives with Bipolar disorder? Tell us about it in comments!

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