Your Guide to Bipolar Mood Disorder

Bipolar Disorder is a chronic mental health condition that can severely impact a person’s quality of life and well-being. If left untreated, the condition could have a detrimental effect on one’s relationships, work and daily activities. It’s essential for those who have been diagnosed with Bipolar to work together with a mental health professional to develop a personalised treatment plan and find support for their condition.

Discover more as we provide a comprehensive guide for those affected by this disorder.

What is Bipolar Mood Disorder?

Bipolar Disorder, formerly known as Manic-Depressive Disorder, is a chronic mental health condition that is characterised by extreme fluctuations in a person’s mood. Individuals with Bipolar experience episodes of depression and mania.

There are several different types of Bipolar Disorder, including:

1. Bipolar I Disorder: with this type of Bipolar, the individual experiences manic episodes that will endure for several days and can become so severe that hospitalisation is sometimes necessary. The following depressive episodes are equally severe, lasting two weeks or more.

2. Bipolar II Disorder: this type has less severe manic episodes, which are shorter in duration than Bipolar I, but have more pronounced depressive episodes.

3. Cyclothymic Disorder: is a milder form of Bipolar Mood Disorder. This type is characterised by chronic mood disturbances with episodes of hypomania and depression that don’t meet the full criteria for a full-blown episode.

4. Other Specified and Unspecified Bipolar Disorder: exhibit some Bipolar characteristics but don’t fit into any of the classifications above. So, while an individual may experience mania, it doesn’t last long enough to be considered a full-blown episode that is typical of Bipolar I and II.

5. Bipolar Disorder Not Otherwise Specified: is a diagnosis given when an individual’s symptoms don’t fit the criteria for any of the specific Bipolar types but do indicate some Bipolar features.

Although rare, children have been known to develop Bipolar Disorder. Discover more about recognising mental health problems in children.

Symptoms of Bipolar Mood Disorder

Bipolar Disorder’s symptoms are presented as either hypomanic or depressive.

Common symptoms of mania or hypomania include:

  • Increased energy and activities
  • Elevated or irritable mood
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Racing, incoherent thoughts
  • Impulsive or risky behaviour
  • Grandiose beliefs
  • Inflated self-esteem
  • Poor judgement and decision-making

The following typical symptoms characterise depressive episodes:

  • Persistent feelings of extreme sadness
  • Fatigue or lack of energy
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Change in appetite – eating too much or too little
  • Sleep disturbances – sleeping too much or too little
  • Feelings of shame or worthlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Suicidal thoughts or self-harming behaviour

What causes Bipolar Mood Disorder?

The development and severity of Bipolar Disorder are thought to be a combination of genetics, biological and environmental factors.

  • Genetics. People with a family history of the condition are at a higher risk for developing the disorder during their lifetime.
  • Biological. Chemical imbalances in the brain can contribute to the risk of Bipolar. Imbalances of neurotransmitters, like serotonin and dopamine, play a significant role in the disorder as these affect mood and energy levels. Certain types of hormones, especially those experienced during puberty, pregnancy or menopause, can also trigger Bipolar episodes in individuals who are already at risk. Certain types of medical conditions, like a thyroid disorder, can also contribute to one’s risk.
  • Environmental. People with a biological or genetic predisposition for Bipolar Mood Disorder can be triggered by traumatic or stressful life events, like the loss of a loved one, financial difficulties, divorce or job loss.

Living healthy: treating and managing Bipolar Disorder.

The treatment of Bipolar Mood disorder typically involves a combination of treatments, including medication, psychotherapy and making lifestyle changes.

The treatment plan will vary from person to person, depending on the diagnosed type and severity of the disorder.

Typically, an individual with Bipolar Disorder will need to engage in the services of a psychiatrist who will develop a treatment plan that will probably include the following:

  • Medication. Mood stabilisers, like Lithium, are the primary medication used to treat the disorder. In some cases, antipsychotic medications are used to treat both manic and depressive episodes if they are very severe. Antidepressants are used very cautiously, in conjunction with mood stabilisers, to prevent triggering a manic episode.
  • Psychotherapy techniques, like Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy and Interpersonal Therapy, are often recommended. Cognitive-behavioural therapy helps individuals with Bipolar identify negative thought patterns that affect their mood so they can redirect these thoughts into more constructive or positive ones. Interpersonal Therapy looks at regulating daily routines and improving interpersonal relationships to stabilise one’s mood. In some cases, the mental health care practitioner will recommend family-focused therapy so that the affected individual can benefit from a support network.

Find out how you can support someone suffering from a mental health condition. 

  • Lifestyle changes. Developing regular sleeping patterns, reducing one’s stress levels and following a healthy diet along with an exercise programme can all help contribute to regulating one’s mood and reducing the risk of a manic or depressive episode. Individuals with Bipolar Disorder are encouraged to avoid trigger stimuli, which could include alcohol or substance abuse, highly stressful situations, or certain types of medication.

The treatment of Bipolar Mood Disorder is customised based on the individual’s unique needs. For this reason, finding the right combination of treatments to suit a person may take some time. There’s no quick-fix method. Subsequently, it’s critical that the one works closely with and is supervised by a mental health care team. Regular monitoring and check-ups are important as they will help assess the effectiveness of the treatments, adjust medication, and address any issues.

There are other support services that can assist a person with Bipolar Disorder. They could join a support group or reach out to some specialised assist lines.

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group assists those suffering from mental health problems. In addition, the following 24-hour toll-free emergency helpline resources are available:

We understand the need for good mental health services. That’s why members have access to confidential, multilingual counselling support services on a toll-free number. Adults can receive support for personal or work-related issues. Children and teenagers can receive counselling that covers preventive and proactive interventions for emotional problems. There is also a specialised trauma and critical incident counselling service for those who have suffered a traumatic incident.

What do we cover?

We are committed to assisting in the treatment of mental health conditions. If you or a loved one has Bipolar Mood Disorder, you will need specialist medical care and services. Ensure you and your family are covered for chronic benefits and get the right healthcare coverage. We have a wide portfolio of healthcare options that suit your medical needs and budget.

The Momentum Health4Me Gold health insurance plan offers a specialist benefit in day-to-day health insurance cover.

The Momentum Health4Me Ingwe Medical Aid option provides two specialist visits per family per year, limited to R1,150 per visit (maximum of R2,300). This is covered at 100% of the Momentum Medical Scheme Rate.

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