Bipolar disorder

​What is bipolar disorder? What causes it?

Spirit Vine Blog

Bipolar disorder is a serious health condition which affects a surprising number of the US and global populations…
It involves severe low and high mood swings. Through these, it causes untold amounts of hardship – mental, physical and emotional – to its sufferers. And it can ruin their day-to-day lives.

While it can be managed with the right treatment plan and possibly some medication, individual episodes may last for weeks or months. There may be some periods of normality in between…

But the overall condition is unlikely to go away.

If you suffer from the disorder or you are wondering how to tell if someone is bipolar, this article might just have the answer for you:

What is bipolar depression?

Bipolar disorder used to be called manic depression. It is a type of mental disorder where a person experiences two different kinds of extreme and abnormal mood swings. These are:

1. Mania or hypomania: this elevated mood creates a feeling of great energy and happiness, but can also cause irritability.

2. Depression: this severely low mood creates a feeling of sadness, hopelessness and causes a lack of interest in day-to-day activities.

These mood swings may happen only once in a while or several times each year. There is no guarantee that a person will return to a “normal” emotional balance between mood swings, though many people do.

How common is bipolar disorder?

It is estimated that slightly less than 3% of Americans have bipolar. A worldwide figure of around 1% of the global population is the current estimate.

What are the symptoms of bipolar?

The symptoms of bipolar result in changes in a person’s mood and behaviour which can be both dramatic and very hard to predict.

For the sufferer, this can make it incredibly difficult to live their life. Their mood swings can make it difficult to sleep, to keep their energy levels up, can affect their judgment or make it difficult to think clearly.

The two major kinds of mood swings which a bipolar sufferer will experience are:

1) Mania or hypomania

Although we’ve put them together here, mania and hypomania are actually different types of episodes.

The symptoms are the same, but mania is actually the more severe of the two. This may sound a little strange. But the Greek suffix “hypo” means “under”, which might have something to do with the reason why – to the layman – the more intense-sounding condition is actually the less severe.

In any case, mania can lead to outright psychosis, where a person has a complete break from reality. More commonly, mania will lead to problems with personal and romantic relationships as well as in school or the workplace.

It’s usually said that a person needs to have at least three of these symptoms in order to be in a manic or hypomanic episode:

  • Have (or act as if they have) a great deal of energy, a desire to do a lot or being very agitated
  • Have (or act as if they have) an abnormally positive mood
  • Being very, very talkative
  • Very fast-moving thoughts which won’t stay still
  • Be easily distracted
  • Less need to sleep
  • A sense of euphoria, where they feel abnormally self-confident
  • Poor decision-making ability

2) Depression

Even though it’s something of a “polar” opposite to mania or hypomania (hence the disorder’s name), a major depressive phase will still result in the same kinds of problems for sufferers:

This can mean a person will struggle during their daily routine – whether that involves personal and romantic relationships, their job or their schoolwork.

The list of symptoms of a major depressive episode needs to include at least five of these:

  • Feelings of sadness, hopelessness or crying incessantly
  • Abnormal feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Remarkably disinterest or taking no pleasure in any activities
  • Significant weight loss, weight gain or changes in appetite
  • Inability to sleep, or sleeping too much
  • Reduced energy levels
  • Slower behaviour or restlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating or indecisiveness
  • Suicidal thoughts

What types of bipolar are there?

There are actually several different types of bipolar disorder:

1. Bipolar I Disorder: someone with Bipolar I has had at least one manic episode. It may have been followed by or been led up to by hypomanic or depressive episodes. Bipolar I’s manic episode or episodes can be powerful and dangerous. Bipolar I tends to result in perhaps more intense, explosive yet comparatively shorter-lasting mood swings than Bipolar II.

2. Bipolar II Disorder: someone with Bipolar II has had at least one hypomanic and one depressive episode. This isn’t just a gentler form of Bipolar I. Instead, while a person with Bipolar II may not suffer from full-blown manic episodes, they may be debilitated for longer periods of time.

3. Cyclothymic Disorder: someone with Cyclothymic Disorder will have experienced at least two years containing several periods of hypomanic or depressive episode-like symptoms. However, they will tend to have less severe symptoms than full depression. Children and adolescents are sometimes diagnosed with this after a single year.

4. Related disorders: bipolar and similar disorders can be caused by certain medical conditions as well as drugs or alcohol.

How is bipolar disorder diagnosed?

Bipolar disorder is typically diagnosed when you are in your teens or early twenties. That said, it can occur at any age.

A doctor seeking to diagnose the condition will be on the lookout for manic and depressive episodes lasting at least seven days. Possibly less if the symptoms were very severe.

They will also typically carry out an examination with diagnostic, blood and urine tests. These latter are to make sure that excessive drug or alcohol use are not possible causes of symptoms a person may be experiencing.

In addition, a doctor may also ask people who know the person to talk about their behaviour and contact other healthcare professionals the person has come into contact with to ask for their observations.

What causes bipolar disorder?

The precise causes of bipolar disorder are not currently known.

However, it is thought that factors include both:

1. Genetic: certain genes are understood to be up to 85% responsible for the likelihood of a person developing this kind of condition.

2. Environmental: incidences of abuse or childhood trauma may also have a large role to play.

How to treat bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition. But it can be managed with smart treatment plans. The two key components of a treatment plan tend to be:

  • Some form of counselling, usually psychotherapy.
  • Medication, including mood stabilizers and antipsychotics.

For people suffering from extreme manic episodes, confinement in a hospital is not out of the question. Especially if they are a risk to themselves or others. It’s usually suggested that antidepressants should be stopped during manic cycles.

ECT (ElectroConvulsive Therapy) has been tried in several cases. But the results have not been the subject of enough research to confirm its usefulness as yet.
It is also one of the reasons why people have investigated visiting us here at the Spirit Vine Center. Ayahuasca acts as an amplifier of who we are, and so it is not compatible with people suffering from bipolar disorder as it will amplify the symptoms of the disorder. Also chemically ayahuasca is not incompatible with the medications as it contains high amounts of MAOI.

We have had participants with bipolar disorder who continue taking their medication to keep the symptoms under control. While they cannot participate in the ayahuasca ceremonies, they are able to partake in the other activities. Eating the clean and healthy food prepared her, being in nature in the Atlantic rainforest and the beautiful beaches of the Atlantic ocean help tremendously in restoring balance to their life. They also participate in the workshops for spiritual development where they learn tools to better manage their symptoms and gain insight to find and address the causes of their problems.

Someone with bipolar disorder that wishes to participate in a retreat must clearly specify their symptoms in the application form and discuss the possibility of attendance with the retreat organizer.