I used to work for the University of Munich for a while as a research assistant on a study in psychiatric genetics. My job was to recruit patients who were willing to participate in this study. The patients I worked with were suffering or had suffered from Bipolar Disorder. Although from a scientific point of view I find this disorder extremely interesting, I was able to see how it affects not only the lives of the people who suffer from it, but also the lives of their families.
Mary* is 46 and has been married for 23 years. She has two kids, one dog, a beautiful house in her hometown and a diagnosis that reads bipolar disorder.
Mary’s husband, Eric*, is an engineer and he’s now the main provider in his home. Seven years ago, Eric and Mary faced a hard time in their marriage. Mary was working at a big cell phone company and had recently been promoted to marketing director. She had worked really hard to get that position and was very proud and happy about getting the promotion. A few months in she had a big project for the board of the company, and she stayed late at worked many times but also worked on the weekends and some nights she wouldn’t sleep at all thinking about work or working from home. This went on for about 8 months.
One weekend and after the project had successfully finished, the whole family decided to go out for brunch. That morning they got waken up by Mary at 5am. She was wearing a ball gown and had woken up at 3 am to prepare a big meal for her family. This was the beginning of a confusing time for the whole family. Over the next few months Mary’s behaviour would get more and more bizarre. She quit her job spontaneously, she spent lots of money shopping unnecessary things and putting the family in a huge credit card debt. She would go out at night and not come back for two days straight. She would act irresponsibly, drink driving and having unprotected sex with strangers which caused her to get in trouble with the police a couple of times and to get STDs.
Her behaviour caused a lot of problems in the marriage and after a while she sank into a severe depression. Eric had threatened with divorce and with taking the kids away. Both kids were having problems with their school work which affected their grades and their self-esteem. After speaking with a doctor, Eric decided to not give up on her and he convinced her to go see a psychiatrist. She was then diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Having a diagnosis made it easier for the family to understand Mary’s behaviour, even though it is hard work. Mary’s doctor educated the whole family in what bipolar disorder is, what it looks like and what they can do for Mary.
Eric once said that having a wife with bipolar disorder has made him a better man. Mary is lucky to have a husband like Eric, who can be strong when she isn’t due to her illness. Unfortunately, not many people have the same luck. With this blog I want to educate and make people aware of mental illness that are more common than you might expect and hope that this way, support can be given to those who need it.
I want to highlight the importance of psycho education for the family of the affected person. Psycho education plays such an important part because knowing about the illness can help people know how to support their loved ones. And support doesn’t always mean actively doing something, it also means understanding and tolerance.
Please keep on reading for more on bipolar disorder.
What is bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder, previously known as Manic Depression, is a mood disorder. As many other mental illnesses, bipolar disorder can be a life long mental problem. People suffering from bipolar disorder have extreme changes in their mood that go from a low to a high. People with this disorder experience episodes of:
– Depression (low mood or depressive episode)
– Mania (high mood or manic episode)
People might feel well between episodes, but when going through an episode of either depression or mania, their lives will be affected.
There are four types of bipolar disorder: bipolar I and bipolar II, cyclothymic disorder and other specified and unspecified bipolar and related disorders.
In this blog post, I will focus on the most common 2 kinds which are bipolar 1 and bipolar 2.
Bipolar 1 and bipolar 2
So, what characterises bipolar disorder is the extreme moods, going from high to low. The difference between bipolar 1 and 2 is the severity with which the affected person experiences the manic episodes. A person with bipolar 1 experiences a full manic episode while a person with bipolar 2 will experience a hypomanic episode, which is a less severe manic episode.
To be diagnosed with bipolar 1, a person must have experienced at least one manic episode but not necessarily a major depressive episode. A person with bipolar 2 will have experienced a major depressive episode.
You can see in the symptom section what manic and depressive episodes look like.
What are the symptoms?
A manic episode is characterised by:
- Very high levels of energy
- Extreme happiness (euphoria)
- Trouble concentrating
- Poor sleep
- Risky behaviour
- Sometimes high libido
Depressive episodes are usually characterised by:
- Changes in sleep habits
- Changes in eating habits
- Trouble concentrating
- Suicidal thoughts
Sometimes people with bipolar disorder may experience psychotic episodes. During manic episodes people may think they have super power or special abilities. Visual and audio hallucinations might also occur.
What causes it?
Bipolar disorder runs in families. However, there are other possible causes such as a chemical imbalance in the brain.
As it is with genetics, if someone in your family suffers or has suffered from bipolar disorder, the risk of you developing it is higher. However, genes are very interesting because even if you have the gene of bipolar disorder, this gene might not be “active”. Scientists have found out that stress, traumatic experiences and sometimes even drugs and alcohol can trigger bipolar disorder. Which means, it can activate the gene of bipolar disorder.
What treatment can you get?
The treatment for bipolar disorder usually includes medication but it will usually be combined with psychotherapy as it is important to work on what has triggered the disorder.
If you think you have bipolar disorder, consult your doctor r speak to a qualified psychologist. And if you know anyone who might be affected by this disorder or just someone who might be interested in the topic, please share this post.
Remember, awareness is the first step in the direction of a solution.
*Not their real names.