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Bipolar Disorder is Like a Series of Emotional Rollercoaster Rides

Supportive Family Being Alongside with Sufferers Is Important for Recovery

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive disorder or manic depression, is a severe form of mental health condition that requires medical treatment. Sufferers show symptoms of extreme mood changes, ranging from emotional highs (known as manic episodes) to depression (known as depressive episodes). During a manic episode, sufferers feel elated and highly energized, whereas, in a major depressive episode, they will have negative thoughts, low mood and lose of interest in most activities. The extreme swings in mood are analogous to rollercoaster rides, which not only torment the sufferers but also creates tremendous stress to their family and caregiver.

Genetic factor is a common cause of bipolar disorder. Stress, difficulties or setbacks that one faces in life are a few common triggers for this mental health condition. As it is not easy to identify this disorder, family, friends and caregivers must have the right knowledge to distinguish between depression and bipolar disorder.

How Can Family Members Distinguish Between Depression and Bipolar Depression?

If a sufferer has pre-existing depression, a manic episode may be mistaken as him or her reverting to a normal self of being active and motivated. Family members should note if the sufferer is sleeping less, waking up early and going to bed very late at night. Also, observe if the sufferer often acts upon something without prior planning. Such impulsiveness is a key indicator of bipolar disorder.

A depressive episode typically lasts longer than a manic episode. A manic episode usually lasts 5 to 10 days. During this period, sufferers are motivated, impulsive, excitable, boastful and tend to spend excessively. Sufferers may also exhibit dangerous behaviour, carrying out the actions of the negative thoughts he or she harboured during a prior depressive episode, such as committing suicide. During mania, other than self-harm, sufferers often act on impulse, such as gambling with large sums of money or buying expensive valuables, resulting in huge financial losses. During this time, do not mistake that the sufferer is back to a normal state and do not be offended by the nasty remarks that the sufferer hurls at you. Bear in mind that he or she is currently experiencing symptoms of the disorder.

Counselling Alleviates Depression While Medication Controls Mania 

Medication is required to treat bipolar disorder. Manic episodes can be managed with medicine while depressive episodes can be alleviated with counselling. Taking medication and receiving counselling hand-in-hand can help stabilise the emotions of the sufferers. Family members who are distressed while caring for the sufferers should also seek help from a counsellor or a coach.

Coaching Can Reduce Risks

Professional counsellors at The Companions can provide training for caregivers to be equipped with various techniques and methods to support sufferers in their recovery. The training can also help reduce risks that the sufferers may face.

1. Recognise the Symptoms and Triggers

Caregivers must have the right knowledge. Gather information that is relevant to the condition and learn to distinguish between depression and bipolar disorder. Understanding that sufferers often experience an emotional “rollercoaster” enables us to better relate to and accept them.

2. Develop a Good Understanding of the Sufferer’s Personality

Each of us is unique as to each sufferer is different. The distinct traits of one’s personality, behaviours and thoughts can manifest in the sufferers’ symptoms. For instance, if a sufferer has always been a quiet person, he or she may remain as quiet during a manic episode, but shows signs of being unwilling to sleep. Family members should observe their behaviours, and with their understanding of the sufferer, provide useful information of the sufferer’s condition to a psychiatrist.

3. Make Risk Management Plans While Discussing the Condition

Consider discussing the symptoms and ways to manage with the sufferer when he or she is calm and clear-minded. For example, suggest cancelling his or her credit cards to avoid financial losses due to excessive spending during a manic episode.

4. Practice Active Listening During Conversations and Avoid Disputing

Listen carefully to the feelings conveyed by the sufferer. When you hear things that may seem illogical or unreasonable during the conversation, avoid disputing or reprimanding. Also, understand that if he or she criticises you, it is due to the effect of the symptoms.

5. Do Not Forget About Yourself

Caregivers often overlooked their own needs as they are busy caring for the sufferers. When appropriate, remember to give yourself some personal time and space. Also, do not forget to encourage and give yourself a pat on the back. Do remember that family support is very important to the sufferers in facing the condition.

Possible Signs of Bipolar Disorder

  1. Feeling low, dejected, helpless, self-critical
  2. Constantly excitable, highly exaggerating, unusually confident, thinking that he or she is all-powerful
  3. Excessive spending, investing or shopping thoughtlessly
  4. Speaks fast, behaves impulsively, have rapid changes in thoughts, makes many plans that are vague or lack content
  5. Irritable and experiencing sleeplessness

The Companions
Mendy Kwong
Counsellor