Many people mistakenly think that people suffering from bipolar disorder constantly yo-yo from ecstatic mania to debilitating depression. These two states are obviously integral to the condition, but they can differ in severity and in frequency. In reality, it can be much more difficult for a therapist or family member to identify because there are often long, stable periods between these episodes in which the individual behaves normally. This difficulty in identifying the problem and the potential risks associated with periods of depression and mania (such as suicidal behaviour or extreme risk-taking) means that seeking medical treatment and counselling is essential for anybody suffering from bipolar disorder.
Changes in mood are a part of everyday life. Everybody will experience periods of sadness and happiness in their life, but the ordinary mood-swings can become more intense. People suffering from bipolar disorder have extended periods of depression and mania, and those feelings are often much stronger. Someone with bipolar disorder will go from feeling as though it isn’t worth getting out of bed to making grandiose plans or believing they are in some way important. The specific cause of the condition isn’t known, but genetic factors and stress are thought to contribute.
Manic periods are characterised by extreme happiness, excessive and rapid talking, irritability, increased sex drive, inability to concentrate, lavish spending and risky behaviour. The individual might also get aggressive or misuse drugs or alcohol during periods of mania. There is also a milder form known as hypomania, in which the individual is genuinely productive and creative for a limited period of time. They might not realise that they’re behaviour is changing, however, and could even be shocked at their own actions. Counselling can help people avoid risky practices during periods of mania and help them manage their behaviour.
Depressive periods are essentially the mirror image of mania. The sufferer might not feel interested in their life, will feel hopeless or emotionally empty and may have suicidal thoughts. They may experience extreme fatigue and disturbances in their eating or sleeping habits. Guilt or feelings of worthlessness can dominate their waking life, and they may withdraw from social situations. Each individual’s cycles can work differently, so some will mainly experience mania, others depression, and some will have both simultaneously. There are also rapidly changing (four or more episodes in a year) and mild forms of bipolar disorder. Psychotherapy can help to determine the specific form of the condition.
Medication is the main treatment offered for bipolar disorder, but it isn’t effective without complementary psychological therapy. Generally speaking, lithium is the most common medicine offered, but anti-convulsants and anti-psychotics are also used in some cases. These help to manage the symptoms of the condition and control moods, but long-term use is best avoided because of the potential side-effects. For example, lithium can damage the thyroid gland and the kidneys, so patients taking it require regular check-ups.
Counselling is more effective at managing symptoms long-term because of the most common medicines’ side effects. The therapist will help the individual confront their own feelings and deal with their emotions more effectively. The focus is on identifying the problematic thought patterns and poor coping mechanisms which open the door for depression. These thought patterns are broken down, and the individual is taught new coping mechanisms. The condition can be very complicated, so finding a counsellor is extremely important for people with bipolar disorder.
If you believe that you or your loved one is suffering from bipolar disorder, it can be difficult to determine the best course of action. We can help you work out if there is a problem and the best way to deal with it. We’ll listen to your circumstances, suggest the best treatment options to you and answer any questions you might have. Call our Luton office to set up an appointment.
For more information about our costs for bipolar counselling services please see the about us page.