We all experience ups and downs in our lives from time to time, with extreme depression and loneliness on one side to great excitement and happiness on the other. However, a person with Bipolar Disorder would have a different story to tell, particularly the fact that for him or for her, these wide-spread mood alterations are experienced much more frequently and intensely. Needless to say, this would cause severe impairment to the day-to-day functions of the person, which it invariably does. Bipolar Disorder is a psychiatric disorder and can be specifically designated as a mood disorder, with the prime characteristic being abnormal functioning of the state of the mind that humans call mood and behavior. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 4% of the US adult population have Bipolar Disorder and from a demographics perspective, males and females are equally likely to be diagnosed with this disorder. Also, Bipolar Disorder is not liberated from the ‘nature versus nurture’ argument as current research shows that both the environment and the person’s genetic makeup influence whether a person will develop this disorder or not, similar to many other psychological disorders.
The scientific and medical community define extreme happiness and joyfulness as mania. However, there is one key distinction between mania and amplified mood. Heightened mood is often perceived as about as harmless as feeling good about oneself and having an abundant amount of self-confidence is often a desired quality people strive for. But mania goes much further beyond that: mania increases the mood of a person to such an extent that it no longer remains optimum for good health and thus deteriorates mental functioning. It is this mania that is one key attribute of Bipolar Disorder. There are many symptoms of mania that all have one commonality: impairment of daily functioning. A brief but critical list of symptoms of Bipolar Disorder include insomnia, an increased self-confidence level along with a heightened self-concept, and tendencies towards participating in harmful activities that have the potential to harm ‘victims’ but also the person performing the acts. It becomes easy to see why these symptoms cause impairment to the day-to-day functioning of a person who has this disorder. When viewed from a holistic angle, all of these symptoms have some sort of an effect on relationships and well-being. As the name suggests, Bipolar Disorder is a disorder of two symptoms – the other being depression. Just like mania, this depression is not the depression people, on average, face. We all have those bad days – missing the bus, toaster breaking down, and a few harsh words from boss – where it may seem that depression is taking over. But for a person with Bipolar Disorder, this depression is of major concern. Depression produces effects that are of opposite nature to mania, mainly the decline of happiness and satisfaction derived from hedonistic activities. These afflictions to the person’s mental state-of-being, in effect, have physical ramifications. These consequences include a decline in appetite, weight loss, and a decreased level of energy. Similar to mania, one can clearly see how depression leads to the worsening of a person’s overall well-being.
Like any illness, prompt and continued treatment is the key to reducing the severity of Bipolar Disorder. People are often inclined to believe that during periods of remission, the person has been cured of his or her illness. This, unfortunately, is not the case. Remission which is then followed by relapse is common to this disorder, although the duration and intensity of each phase may vary from person to person. Aside from medications, there are many subtle or less-known mechanisms to handle Bipolar Disorder. First and foremost, the way the person internalizes his or her condition can have a significant effect on the progress and treatment of the disorder. A person who has taken in that (s)he is sick and starts to associate majority of his/her social interactions as forms of negative stigmas may worsen his or her potential curing as well as injure his/her relationships with others. Therefore, the way a person manages to cope with his or her condition can serve as a treatment in-itself. Coping mechanisms may include: ‘reminding yourself that you are fine and this will go away’ and using family and societal resources. Families can play a big role in helping their close ones in dealing with Bipolar Disorder by offering support and care when needed, helping to set up routine schedules and most importantly, understanding that the person they love and care for is not acting on his/her own. It is crucial to understand why setting-up and following consistent schedules is considered a viable treatment plan. Scheduling allows for the person facing the disorder to experience a consistent pattern of events in his or her daily life that would not only lessen the severe effects of mania and depression, but would also allow the body to set “internal clocks” that would, to some extent, normalize the day-to-day interactions of the person. All of these treatment plans take time and therefore patience is of utmost importance.
Alongside the traditional medication and support treatments, there exists yet another powerful remedy that has shown in many cases to be effective in handling Bipolar Disorder: psychotherapy. There are various types of psychotherapies but all have one major similarity: working together with a trained therapist to try to ameliorate the conditions of the person, behaviourally. The overall goal of such treatment is for the person to develop better skills at handling his or her mood fluctuations as well as be better able to communicate his or her conditions to close-ones. The therapist would likely collect all preliminary information, the most important being the actual triggers of the mania and depression, and would then discuss ways to prevent or lessen the effects of such triggers. Just like the traditional treatments, psychotherapy demands patience and communication; the more the person is able to describe his or her mental, physical, and behavioral state, the more likely the therapy will be successful. The function of treatment is to reduce labeling and stigmatization, and the concerted effort of all people involved is of key necessity.
Bipolar Disorder comes with many forms of stigma which no one would ever want to face. Therefore, it is essential that we, the most civilized forms of modern life, show understanding and compassion to those who suffer and endure. As renowned sociologist Howard Becker explains, labeling will only lead to internalization and negative internalization always leads to deviance. Do we want a society where mentally ill people are considered deviant, venting out their anger, hatred, and frustration or a society where they are taken care of, thus enabling them to reintegrate? This is the real question and requires some careful thought…