Bipolar & Bipolar II Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a serious mental health disorder affecting approximately 3% of the Australian population. Previously referred to as 'manic depression' due to the experience of extreme swinging moods, those suffering from this disorder can encounter low (depressed) and/or high or excited (manic) phases.

It is important to take into consideration that everyone has mood swings from time to time. However when these moods become severe and impact your day-to-day life it is important to seek medical attention with your General Practitioner (GP).

What Is Bipolar I?

Bipolar disorder I is the considered to be the more severe illness in terms of its symptoms. Individuals are more likely to experience mania for longer periods of time, and are more likely to have psychotic episodes, sometimes resulting in hospitalisation.

What Is Bipolar II?

Bipolar disorder II is when a person experiences symptoms of a high, but without any psychotic episodes. The highs are referred to as hypomania, which are not as high as those experiencing Bipolar I symptoms (mania).

What Are The Symptoms?

Those living with bipolar disorder experience a range of extreme highs and lows. In a manic state (also referred to as a 'high') the patient may behave or react in an over-excitable and/or reckless manner which can impose an effect on the speed and pace of their speech, actions and thinking. They may also experience difficulty when focusing on tasks which can lead to feelings of irritability and frustration.

The symptoms of a depressed state are generally the same as those who suffer from depression, including feelings of sadness or feeling low, loss of interest and joy in activities including hobbies, and social withdrawal.

What Are The Causes?

The exact causes of bipolar disorder are not yet entirely understood, however it is known to be primarily a biological illness based on a combination of genetics and other factors. Like most other mental health conditions, the onset of symptoms can be triggered by high stress alongside environmental factors, other medical problems, and/or a family history of bipolar disorder.

Treating Bipolar

It is important to note that every person is different, and he or she may require medication or combinations of medications which will be different to someone else being treated for bipolar disorder.

Generally a combination of medical and psychological treatments are used by a psychiatrist to treat bipolar disorder, with evidence showing medication playing an important role in the treatment process. Some medications are used to treat the acute episodes of mania and depression, while other medications such as mood stabilisers are used to control any potential episodes.

Psychological Treatments

Treatments and therapies such as counselling and psychotherapy are an important supplementary treatment for bipolar disorder, however can be very ineffective and inappropriate without medical treatment through a psychiatrist.

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) can also be beneficial in the treatment of bipolar disorder by decreasing depressive symptoms and reducing mental health related hospital admissions.

Psychological therapies are undertaken face-to-face with a trained professional, and there are also many growing online resources providing online course modules via the internet.

Medical Treatments

Medications for bipolar disorder are generally administered through a psychiatrist with two strategies in mind;

  1. To treat of prevent mania by stabilising the mood using medications such as lithium, carbamazepine, lamotrogine. Those with bipolar II disorder, an SSRI anti-depressant is sometimes used to help prevent highs and lows*
  2. To treat the depression of which there are different classes. SSRI's and Dual Action Anti-Depressants are used as they are less likely to 'switch' the depressed individual to a high, or as noted above in the first strategy, to act as a stabiliser as part of an ongoing method*.

The prescription of medication should be made in consultation with your psychiatrist.

How To Manage Bipolar

  • Stick to your treatment plan; visit your psychiatrist and psychologist on a regular basis to ensure you are on track with your treatment, and to check whether any medication doses need to be adjusted
  • Learn how to relax; meditate daily in the morning and/or evening to assist with mood elevation, mindfulness and muscle relaxation
  • Talk to your close family and friends about your current diagnosis and how they can support you; your psychologist can help you in addressing this
  • Learn to be self aware; the way you think will have an affect on the way you feel. Self-awareness through mindfulness and meditation may help prevent symptoms from escalating by being able to recognise an emotion and knowing how to address it before it has the potential to escalate into a episode
  • Develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle; regular exercise such as a simple 30 minute brisk walk or yoga routine each day along with a diet containing good nutrients can aid in managing symptoms whilst providing distractions from negative thoughts
  • Create healthy habits; alcohol, drugs, and stimulant abuse is known to exacerbate the symptoms and can cause major disruptions to your emotional wellbeing and overall treatment.

How To Get Help

Bipolar disorder is best diagnosed and treated by a psychiatrist, which can be sought by asking your General Practitioner (GP) for a referral.

Your psychiatrist will develop a treatment plan to help manage your symptoms. Psychological treatment is also highly recommended for the long-term management of bipolar disorder, and can be arranged through your psychiatrist or GP.

Your Mental Health Treatment Plan will also be arranged in order to receive a Medicare rebate for any necessary treatment with your new psychologist.

Definitions & References

Psychologists are trained and qualified mental health professionals who provide psychological therapies such as Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) at both an emotional and psychological level. Sessions can be conducted with either an individual or a group, and can provide various methods on how to manage existing symptoms.

Psychiatrists are doctors who are also extensively trained in mental health in order to make both medical and psychiatric diagnoses. Psychiatrists will generally administer medication deemed suitable to treat a patients condition, in a private practice and/or psychiatric hospitals

Counsellors are trained to give guidance on personal problems. Common personal problems include difficulties with relationships and life circumstances, grief, anxiety and depression.

Data References:
Australian Bureau of Statistics (2007/2008).
National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results, 2007 (4326.0 & 1301.0).
Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics.