My boyfriend is happy one minute and angry the next. My mother told me that he may have bipolar. Can you tell me what that means?
Most of us have mood swings as this can depend on many factors; stress, financial worries, hormonal changes in the body, alcohol or other drugs and even child rearing resulting in feelings of joy, anger and frustration. Those in themselves do not mean we have a bipolar disorder.
The exact cause of bipolar disorder is not known, although it is widely thought that factors such as genetics or one’s brain structure are two key contributing elements. Therefore routine blood tests or other biological testing are usually not effective in identifying if a person does have a bipolar disorder. Again, most of us will adapt or adjust to our daily mood swings, however those who have bipolar will generally have an inability in coping with daily activities, with a somewhat distorted view of reality. According to the Mayo Clinic, bipolar disorder, formerly called manic depression, is a mental health condition that causes extreme mood swings including emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression). Bipolar disorder is usually diagnosed during one’s teens or early 20s, however can occur at any age.
A 2007 national survey of mental health and wellbeing by Slade Johnston, Oakley Browne, Andrews and Whiteford concluded about 1.8 per cent of Australian males and 1.7 per cent of females had had bipolar disorder in the previous 12 months. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported in 2011 that in people aged between 15 and 24, about 3.2 per cent of males and 3.6 per cent of females had had bipolar disorder in their lifetime.
For this same age group, it was noted that among females it was the ninth leading contributor and 10th for males for disease and injury. Unfortunately, through misdiagnosis, where the average age of onset is about 17 and a half years, the delay in a person being properly diagnosis takes about 12 years to do so, as per research conducted in 2007 by Berk, Dodd, Callaly, Berk, Fitzgerald, de Castella and Kulkarni.
Therefore bipolar disorder is characterised by two opposite stages: depression and mania. During a depressed stage people may feel sad, hopeless, and worthless or possibly think about suicide. While the mania stage, which can tend to occur less often than the depression stage, will involve unusual bursts of energy resulting in having racing thoughts, talking louder or faster than usual and a decreased need for sleep, as per Dr Joseph Calabrese, director of the mood disorders program at Case Western Reserve University, which is regarded as one of the best private research universities in the US.
If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, you are in good company with people like female singer Mariah Carey, Mel Gibson, comedian Russell Brand, Beach Boys founder Brain Wilson, Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain, author Ernest Hemingway, billionaire Ted Turner, actress Catherine Zeta-Jones and former British PM Winston Churchill.
As usually recommended, seek the advice of a qualified health provider or contact organisations such as the Black Dog Institute, Mind Australia or our local Mood Swingers Bipolar Support Network.
Dr Anthony Perrone is college counsellor at Trinity Anglican College. The views expressed in this column are Dr Perrone's and not necessarily those of Trinity Anglican College. Got a question for the counsellor? Email: email@example.com