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  • Writer's pictureDr Heather Dyson

World Bipolar Awareness Day: What do professionals mean by “Bipolar”?

World Bipolar Day is an awareness day in which we raise awareness of a mental health issues that affects millions of individuals around the world. Bipolar disorder is more than just occasional mood swings; it's a complex condition that can have a profound impact on a person's life. In this blog, we'll consider how bipolar disorder may present in individuals, explore various treatment options, and discuss five effective coping strategies for individuals who identify with the diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder, previously known as manic-depressive illness, is a complex and multifaceted mental health condition that profoundly affects a person's mood, energy levels, and behaviour. It is characterised by extreme shifts between manic, hypomanic, and depressive episodes, each presenting its unique challenges and symptoms.

1.     Bipolar I Disorder: Bipolar I disorder is marked by the occurrence of manic episodes that last for at least seven days or are severe enough to necessitate immediate medical attention. During manic episodes, individuals may experience heightened energy levels, euphoria, racing thoughts, impulsivity, and a decreased need for sleep. These symptoms can lead to risky behaviours, impaired judgment, and difficulties in daily functioning. Manic episodes in bipolar I disorder are often followed by depressive episodes, during which individuals may feel profound sadness, hopelessness, fatigue, and loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities. These depressive episodes typically last for at least two weeks and can significantly impact a person's quality of life and functioning.

2.     Bipolar II Disorder: Bipolar II disorder is characterised by a distinct pattern of depressive episodes alternating with hypomanic episodes. Hypomania is a less severe form of mania, characterised by elevated mood, increased energy, creativity, and productivity. Unlike manic episodes, hypomanic episodes do not typically result in severe impairment or require hospitalisation. However, they can still disrupt daily life and relationships. Individuals with bipolar II disorder often struggle with the fluctuating nature of their moods, as they oscillate between periods of depression and hypomania, which can be challenging to manage and may contribute to long-term emotional instability.

3.     Cyclothymic Disorder: Cyclothymic disorder is a milder form of bipolar disorder characterised by numerous periods of hypomanic symptoms and depressive symptoms that do not meet the criteria for a major depressive episode. These mood fluctuations are less severe than those seen in bipolar I and II disorders but are chronic in nature, persisting for at least two years in adults (one year in children and adolescents). Individuals with cyclothymic disorder may experience frequent mood swings, ranging from mild euphoria and optimism to periods of irritability, sadness, and lethargy. Despite the less intense nature of their symptoms, cyclothymic disorder can still have a significant impact on daily functioning and interpersonal relationships.

It's important to recognise that bipolar disorder exists on a spectrum, with varying degrees of severity and symptom presentation. Additionally, individuals with bipolar disorder may experience mixed episodes, during which they simultaneously experience symptoms of mania and depression, further complicating their diagnosis and treatment. Early identification, accurate diagnosis, and comprehensive treatment are crucial for effectively managing bipolar disorder and improving long-term outcomes for individuals living with this condition.

Treatment Options for Bipolar Disorder:

Managing bipolar disorder often requires a comprehensive treatment approach tailored to the individual's specific needs. Treatment may include a combination of medication, psychotherapy, lifestyle adjustments, and alternative therapies. Here are some common treatment options:

1.     Medication: Mood stabilisers, antipsychotic medications, and antidepressants are commonly prescribed to manage symptoms of bipolar disorder. These medications help stabilise mood and prevent episodes of mania and depression.

2.     Psychotherapy: Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), and interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (IPSRT) are effective forms of psychotherapy for individuals with bipolar disorder. These therapies focus on managing symptoms, improving coping skills, and developing healthy routines.

3.     Lifestyle Adjustments: Adopting a healthy lifestyle can play a significant role in managing bipolar disorder. This includes getting regular exercise, maintaining a balanced diet, practicing good sleep hygiene, and avoiding drugs and alcohol.

4.     Alternative Therapies: In recent years, alternative therapies such as equine-facilitated psychotherapy have gained attention as complementary treatments for bipolar disorder. Equine therapy involves interactions with horses under the guidance of trained therapists and has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress.

Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy:

Equine-facilitated psychotherapy (EFP) is a therapeutic approach that involves interacting with horses to address emotional and behavioural issues. Horses have a unique ability to mirror human emotions and provide valuable feedback to participants. In EFP sessions, individuals with bipolar disorder can learn valuable coping skills, improve self-awareness, and develop healthier relationships.

Research has shown that equine therapy can be particularly beneficial for individuals with mood disorders like bipolar disorder. The presence of horses can promote relaxation, reduce stress, and increase feelings of self-confidence and empowerment. Additionally, the experiential nature of equine therapy can help individuals develop emotional regulation skills and improve their ability to manage mood swings.

Coping Strategies for Bipolar Disorder:

1.     Maintain a Routine: Establishing a regular daily routine can help stabilise mood and reduce the risk of manic or depressive episodes. This includes setting consistent sleep and wake times, eating balanced meals at regular intervals, and scheduling time for exercise and relaxation.

2.     Build a Support Network: Surrounding yourself with supportive friends, family members, and mental health professionals can provide valuable encouragement and assistance in managing bipolar disorder. Joining a support group or participating in online communities can also help connect you with others who understand what you're going through.

3.     Practice Mindfulness and Stress Reduction Techniques: Mindfulness practices, such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation, can help reduce stress and promote emotional well-being. Taking time each day to engage in these techniques can improve mood stability and resilience.

4.     Monitor Mood Changes: Keeping track of your mood fluctuations, energy levels, and other symptoms can help you identify patterns and early warning signs of impending mood episodes. Mood tracking apps or journals can be useful tools for monitoring your mental health and communicating with your healthcare team.

5.     Pursue Meaningful Activities: Engaging in activities that bring you joy, fulfilment, and a sense of purpose can help improve your overall quality of life. Whether it's pursuing a hobby, volunteering, or spending time in nature, finding meaningful outlets for self-expression can enhance your emotional well-being and resilience.

World Bipolar Day serves as a reminder of the importance of raising awareness, reducing stigma, and supporting individuals living with bipolar disorder. By understanding the nature of the condition, exploring effective treatment options, such as equine-facilitated psychotherapy, and implementing coping strategies, individuals with bipolar disorder can lead fulfilling and meaningful lives despite the challenges they may face. Together, we can work towards creating a more inclusive and supportive society for everyone affected by bipolar disorder.

If you or a loved one, are struggling with symptoms associated with bipolar disorder, please consider speaking to your GP, or contacting BiPolar UK, the UK’s leading charity dedicated to supporting individuals who identify with this diagnosis. They offer a range of services, including peer support groups, online forums, information resources, and employment support. Bipolar UK also runs a dedicated helpline staffed by trained volunteers who provide confidential support and guidance to individuals and their loved ones. For more information visit their website


Photo by Oussema Jbeli on Unsplash 


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