Mental illness awareness week may be over, but mental illness is far from solved. It can be a silent killer, striking when least expected, or it can manifest as a chronic and life-altering disease. No matter what degree of illness a person suffers, it affects not just one patient but his or her entire family and support circle. Bipolar disorder is a serious and sometimes deadly form of mental illness. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) estimates that 10 million Americans suffer from this devastating condition.
Symptoms of bipolar disorder can range from mild to severe. In the most severe cases, suicide is sometimes the outcome. According to the Biploar Disorder Support Alliance, one in five people with this disorder completes suicide. Because the disease can be deadly, it is important that greater attention be placed on it. More funding is desperately needed so that novel and more effective treatments can be developed.
Bipolar disorder traditionally manifests as periods of mania alternating with periods of deep depression. During the manic phase, a person might feel overconfident, hyperactive and jumpy. He or she may engage in risky or impulsive behaviors, talk rapidly and have little need for sleep. During the depressive phase, the person might feel sad, exhausted, listless and hopeless, sleeping a lot and crying for extended periods of time. When people switch in between the manic and depressive phases, it is called “cycling.” Patients differ with regard to how rapidly they cycle. Sometimes a phase can last for weeks or even months. Some people have “rapid cycling” in which they frequently switch back and forth between manic and depressive phases.
While clearly-defined “cycling” is a common form of the disease, symptoms can vary greatly from patient to patient. Some people experience mostly mania with limited bouts of mild depression while others experience the exact opposite: mostly depression with mild periods of mania mixed in. Still others go through “mixed” episodes in which they feel elated and depressed at the same time.
Treatment for bipolar disorder involves medication, therapy and lifestyle support. Currently available medications can be effective in treating the disease, but it is often challenging to find the right combination of drugs and dosages. Having to take multiple medications every day can be difficult, and some who do well on medicine eventually stop taking the drugs because they feel they do not need them anymore. They may believe they have been “cured.” This can be dangerous, so it is essential that people with bipolar disorder discuss any desired medication changes with their doctors.
Unfortunately, even the medications available today fail to help some patients. For this reason, new medicines and treatment protocols are urgently needed. While mental health awareness week is over, bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses continue to pose significant health concerns to those who suffer. Please see the NAMI website for more information on moving into a future where mental illness poses fewer risks and those living with such disorders have access to a wide variety of highly effective treatment options.
This article first appeared on ‘Viral Global News’ on 13 October 2014.