Bipolar disorder is a form of mental illness characterized by extremes. An individual suffering from this condition is likely to assume emotional and behavioural dispositions that are opposed to usual or healthy conduct.
Though bipolar tendencies manifest themselves in a person’s energy and activity levels, sleep patterns, appetite and sexual impulses even, it is the prevailing emotional state that is the most distinctive and discernible symptom of all. Bipolarity is thus constituted of several conditions or mood episodes, based on the same. These include:
- Mania, wherein excess energy and euphoria are most common. Hypomania is a milder form of this condition which does not necessarily hamper day-to-day activity.
- Depression, wherein low energy and despondence are most common.
- Mixed episodes, wherein symptoms of both mania/hypomania and depression are common. The combination of high energy and low morale has the potential of being lethal.
In many cases, these symptoms are not very well understood by the lay man. It thus becomes very important to be aware of the specific behavioural nuances which characterize manic, depressive and mixed episodes.
Symptoms of Manic Episodes:
In a significant number of cases, the incidence of mania is lesser as compared to the depressive state. In fact, sometimes episodes of hypomania are so mild that the illness goes unrecognized and the person is perceived as simply being in an unusually good mood. Hence mania and hypomania are more difficult to diagnose. Nonetheless, the symptoms are as follows:
- A heightened sense of joy, optimism and energy or (unexpectedly so) extreme irritability.
- Rapid speech and thoughts that others are unable to keep up with.
- Little sleep but much energy.
- Inability to concentrate on any particular thing – quickly moving from one idea to next.
- Feeling of invincibility or uncharacteristic confidence.
- Impaired judgement and recklessness.
- In very severe cases, delusions and hallucinations too.
The symptoms of mania are of the kind where one may begin out feeling good. However soon, the excesses may produce many unsavoury consequences. From impulsive career or financial decisions to inappropriate sexual acts and even unprecedented aggressiveness, manic episodes can lead to grave errors and misjudgements.
Symptoms of Depressive Episodes:
Earlier, bipolar depression was considered to be no different from regular depression. However, in recent times, more nuanced understanding of both conditions has lead to the realization that people with bipolar disorder are more likely to exhibit certain symptoms, including the following:
- Feelings of sorrow and hopelessness.
- Sense of worthlessness or guilt.
- Low energy levels and fatigue.
- Mental sluggishness and physical lethargy.
- Irritability and anti-social impulses.
- Problems with sleeping.
- Loss of appetite and weight.
- Thoughts of death and suicide.
In addition to these symptoms, those with bipolar depression are more likely to fall victim to psychotic depression – a condition where individuals lose touch with reality, thus becoming unable to cope with home and work life. Regular depression usually does not portend such extreme escalations.
Symptoms of Mixed Episodes:
When symptoms of both mania/hypomania and depression occur together, a mixed episode is experienced. Typically, a mixed episode would engender such feelings/behaviour in an individual:
- Strong sense of anxiety.
- Irritability and agitation.
- Racing thoughts and easy distractibility.
- The impulse to commit suicide.
It is usually a mixed episode which leads to a bipolar patient committing suicide. This is because it produces a combination of low feelings and high energy, which often leads to actualization of the death impulse.
Depending upon the type of bipolarity an individual is prone to, mood episodes occur with variable intensity, frequency and intermittence in different people. Treatment must be sought regardless of how mild or severe symptoms are, for the condition is likely to increase in intensity over time (if untreated).