What is Bipolar Disorder?
People with bipolar experience periods of depressed mood and periods of elevated (‘high’) or irritable mood and often a mixture of these. The depressed and ‘high’ or irritable moods are more severe than normal sadness, happiness or irritability and generally last weeks or months
The symptoms of depression or low mood vary from person to person. They can include sadness, finding it difficult to enjoy things, tiredness, losing appetite or appetite being too great, being unable to sleep or sleeping too much, gloomy thoughts which can include thoughts of death and some people think of suicide. Self-esteem can go down and people can start blaming themselves inappropriately. Some people may hear voices or see visions when there is nothing there to explain them and their ideas may get out of proportion.
What causes Bipolar?
The exact cause of bipolar disorder is unknown. Experts believe there are a number of factors that work together to make a person more likely to develop it.
These are thought to be a complex mix of physical, environmental and social factors.
Are there different types of Bipolar?
Bipolar I disorder:
This involves manic episodes lasting 7 days or more, or severe mania that requires hospitalization. The person may also experience a major depressive episode that lasts 2 weeks or more. A person does not have to experience this type of episode to receive a bipolar I diagnosis.
Bipolar II disorder:
This features both mania and depression, but the mania is less severe than in bipolar I, and doctors call it hypomania. A person with bipolar II may experience a major depressive episode preceding or following a manic episode.
Also known as cyclothymia, this type includes symptoms of hypomania and depression that last for 2 years or more in adults or 1 year in children. These symptoms do not fit the criteria for wholly manic or depressive episodes.
Symptoms and Effects of Bipolar Disorder
- Manic Episode Symptoms
- Inflated sense of self-confidence
- Decreased need for sleep
- Extreme talkativeness
- Racing thoughts
- Short attention span
- Risky behaviour
- Preoccupation with a specific goal
Some people experience manic episodes so severe that they are unable to function in a social or occupational setting. People having these episodes may require hospitalization. A typical manic episode is not caused by drug abuse. This makes it hard to diagnose bipolar disorder if an addiction also exists.
Major Depressive Episode Symptoms
- Feeling depressed or hopeless most of the day
- Having a sense of worthlessness
- Weight loss or gain
- Insomnia or feeling the need to oversleep
- Loss of interest or pleasure in once enjoyable activities
- Feeling fatigued nearly every day
- Excessive feelings of guilt
- Lack of concentration
- Thoughts of death or suicide
What’s the difference between Borderline Personality Disorder and Bipolar Disorder?
While borderline personality disorder (BPD) and bipolar disorder have similar symptoms and are often confused for each other, they’re distinct conditions.
BPD involves a longstanding pattern of abrupt, moment-to-moment swings in moods, behaviour and self-image that are often triggered by conflicts in interactions with other people. Non-suicidal self-injury is also common in BPD but not in bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder is different from BPD because it involves distinct, longer-lasting episodes of mania/hypomania and/or depression. Several things can trigger manic or depressive episodes, such as sleep changes, stress, medications and substance use.
Bipolar Disorder and addiction
The coexistence of bipolar disorder and addiction in the same patient is not uncommon. Many patients who are living with an active substance abuse problem are also living with a co-occurring mental health disorder – and vice versa. Because mood disorders like bipolar disorder are exceedingly common, it is common for patients to exhibit both bipolar disorder and alcoholism or drug dependence.
Many patients use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate the symptoms of bipolar disorder. Because extreme feelings of depression can be uncomfortable, many people who struggle with bipolar disorder drink or get high in order to manage symptoms. Conversely, many bipolar individuals enjoy the manic period of their disorder and attempt to extend it by taking stimulant drugs.
What is the treatment for Bipolar disorder?
Treatment can help many people, including those with the most severe forms of bipolar disorder. An effective treatment plan usually includes a combination of the following therapies:
- Psychotherapy (talk therapy).
- Self-management strategies, like education and identifying the early symptoms of an episode or possible triggers of episodes.
- Helpful lifestyle habits, such as exercise, yoga and meditation. (These can support, but not replace, treatment).
Bipolar Disorder and Smoking
Adults with bipolar disorder are two to three times more likely to smoke than those in the general population. Seeking out nicotine cessation treatment is harder for those with bipolar disorder, and sometimes this group of people does not have the proper support in place to help them with quitting. Furthermore, the truth of the matter is, that smoking does help slightly with mood regulation, which is one of the many reasons it is harder to quit smoking when you have bipolar disorder than when you do not. The short-term benefits of smoking, however, are far outweighed by the long-term health consequences of continuing this habit.
What is the life expectancy for someone living with Bipolar?
The life expectancy for someone with bipolar disorder is approximately 67 years old. A 2021 study researched the effect of bipolar disorder on longevity and found that: risk of death is 2.6 times greater than the general population. The average life span is between 8–12 years shorter than the general population.
Bipolar disorder can take a toll on your mental health and your physical health. Physical illnesses associated with bipolar disorder are common and considered major contributors to reduced life expectancy.
According to a 2021, bipolar disorder is associated with higher rates of:
- respiratory diseases
- metabolic syndrome
- type 2 diabetes
- high blood pressure
- cardiovascular disease
A lot of the above problems can be contributed to tobacco smoking.
These people are already destined for a shorter life and switching to a safer nicotine delivery method like e-cigarettes could benefit them greatly from tobacco harm reduction.
Psychiatrists, psychologists and health workers should all be encouraging them to quit smoking or opt for safer nicotine.