Bipolar disorder: when your mood is a roller-coaster


Do you know someone who is euphoric one day and completely depressed the next? That person may be suffering from bipolar disorder. This condition can be difficult to admit, but in truth, learning to recognize it is the best way to tame it.

La maladie bipolaire : avoir l’humeur en montagnes russes

How can I recognize bipolar disorder?

Everybody goes through times of great joy, sadness or anger, and everyone has to deal with life’s difficulties. However, for people who suffer from bipolar disorder, the manifestation of these emotions can be magnified, even excessive. And often, these kinds of behavioural changes can alarm the person’s loved ones.

Bipolar disorder affects about 2% of the adult population, and both men and women are affected in the same proportion. Bipolar disorder is characterized by alternating episodes of major depression (“low”) and episodes of mania (“high”), which keep the person from functioning normally. Also, the majority of patients do not present any particular symptoms between episodes of depression and mania.

What are the symptoms of depression?

The depression episode is characterized by various symptoms, such as:

  • ·sadness and crying; 
  • ·feeling overwhelmed;
  • ·extreme tiredness;
  • ·loss of appetite;
  • ·insomnia;
  • ·self-effacement;
  • ·loss of interest in usual activities and/or sex;
  • ·lack of concentration.

What are the symptoms of mania?

The manic episode is the opposite of depression. Here are some examples of typical manic symptoms:

  • mood that can be described as:
    • happy;
    • demonstrative;
    • overexcited/supercharged;
    • euphoric;
    • démonstrative.
  • irritability;
  • aggressive or angry behaviour;
  • accelerated speech;
  • hyperactivity ;
  • decreased need for sleep;
  • impaired judgment, which can put the person in situations that may have serious consequences (ex: impulsive spending or financial transactions).

An individual in the midst of a manic episode can sometimes give the impression of being at his or her most charming, or at the top of his or her productivity, because she or he has lots of stories to tell and boundless energy. Sometimes, the difficulty to diagnose lies, in part, in the fact that manic symptoms are not always seen as negative.

What causes bipolar disorder?

To date, there is still no evidence of one single cause for this illness. However, heredity does seem to play a role; individuals who have one parent suffering from bipolar disorder are more at risk of also developing it. In addition, in people who are predisposed to developing bipolar disorder, certain elements can act as triggers:

  • stressful situation;
  • emotional shock;
  • loss of sleep or insomnia;
  • use of medication or drugs.

How do you treat bipolar disorder?

First, treating bipolar disorder must be done in a way that is adapted to each individual. Treatment is essentially based on medication, whose goal is to prevent relapses. These medications improve the quality of life of patients by stabilizing their mood. Supportive therapy is also recommended for all patients; it involves useful advice to learn how to live with the disorder and allows patients to find ways to prevent relapses. Psychotherapy can prove to be of invaluable help. With proper treatment, most bipolar individuals can enjoy a satisfying life and function well at home and at work.

Several medications can be used successfully to treat bipolar disorder. Consult your pharmacist for any questions relating to medication.

A few tips to help you live better with the disorder

  • Try to get enough sleep; adopt a good bedtime routine.  
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs.  
  • Learn to better manage stress.  
  • Have a balanced diet.
  • Write in a journal every day to keep track of your feelings, activities, sleep cycles, events in your life and side effects of medication. This will help you and your doctor determine which treatment works best for you.

If a loved one presents some of the symptoms or behaviours described here, strongly encourage the person to see a doctor. Bipolar disorder, when it goes undiagnosed or untreated, can lead to distress and major consequences for the affected person and his or her family and friends. When someone’s moods are like a roller-coaster ride, it may be time to take a closer look to avoid things going south.

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