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Understanding & Managing Bipolar Disorder

It is estimated that 1-2% of people experience a lifetime prevalence of bipolar disorder in Ireland. Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes unusual shifts in mood and can affect thinking, energy, feelings and behaviour. It can have a profound impact on every aspect of a person’s life – affecting their relationships, family and work life. 

The condition is characterised by periods of low (depressed), high (elated) or mixed moods separated by periods of normal mood. Bipolar disorder requires lifelong management but it’s important to remember that you can lead a full and productive life once the illness is correctly diagnosed and effectively managed.

How does it affect me?

There are a number of different types of bipolar disorder. It usually involves two phases and symptoms can range from mild to severe. You can also experience mixed moods which may include symptoms from both a depressive and elated phase at the same time. If mania or depression is severe, psychotic symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations can sometimes appear reflecting the extreme mood state. 

A depression phase:

  • eeling – sad, anxious, guilty
  • nergy – low energy, feeling tired or fatigued
  • leeping – under or over-sleeping, any change to normal sleep pattern
  • hinking – poor concentration, thoughts slowed down
  • nterest – loss of interest in hobbies, family or social life
  • alue – low self esteem
  • ches – physical aches and pains with no physical basis
  • ife – loss of interest in living, thinking about death, suicidal thoughts

An elation phase:

  • eeling – elated, enthusiastic, excited, angry, irritable or depressed
  • nergy – increased energy, over-talkative or over-active
  • leeping – reduced need for sleep, marked difficulty in getting to sleep
  • hinking – racing thoughts, ‘pressure in the head’, indecision, jumping from one topic to another, poor concentration
  • nterest – increased interest in pleasurable activities, new adventures, sex, alcohol, street drugs, religion, music or art
  • alue – high self-esteem, feel they can achieve anything.
  • ches – physical aches and pains disappear
  • ife – thinking that they can live forever, taking reckless physical risks or, if angry or distressed, can have suicidal thoughts

What can I do?

If you think you are experiencing bipolar disorder, it’s very important that you speak to your GP or a mental health professional. This will help you to get a correct diagnosis and decide which approach to treatment is best for you. To find a GP in your area, contact the Irish College of General Practitioners on 01 676 3705.

If you believe a loved one may be experiencing bipolar disorder, we suggest you access our information specifically for relatives here.

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Overview of Aware Services that may be helpful.

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Finding the words: How to talk to your GP about your mental health.

Aware’s Living Well With Bipolar Disorder Programme

If you have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, you may benefit from our free Living Well With Bipolar Disorder Programme. We are offering this programme in online and in-person group settings. Participants also benefit from a dedicated follow on Support & Self Care Group so you can give and receive support as you further explore and implement the learnings. 

Learning to cope

There are a number of treatment options available – lifestyle changes, talk therapies, medication or a combination of these. It is important to have a trusted and supportive healthcare team and to follow your treatment plan to manage the condition as effectively as possible.

Some other suggestions include:

  • Most people with bipolar disorder require medication. Short term medications can be used to reduce distressing symptoms associated with an acute phase. Other medications can be taken on a longer term basis to reduce the likelihood of relapse.
  • Education and peer to peer support is important to help you understand more about the condition and how to manage it effectively. You can learn more from reputable sources like Aware and the Living Well With Bipolar Disorder Programme. 
  • Consider identifying one relative or friend who can be a ‘spotter’ for you, as it can be difficult, particularly with elations, to recognise that you are becoming unwell. Someone close can notice the shift in mood and ‘spot’ symptoms. Early recognition can ensure swift treatment and minimise disruption and duration of the episode.
  • Using a mood diary can be useful, especially between doctor’s visits. It will help you to spot patterns and possible triggers.
  • Lifestyle changes such as ensuring you get adequate sleep, have a healthy routine, regular exercise, a balanced diet and limit alcohol consumption are beneficial. Self care and relaxation techniques like breath work, yoga, meditation and mindfulness can also support stress reduction.

Above all, do not try to deal with bipolar disorder on your own.

Reach out to family and friends, use the support that is available.

Keep support line numbers close to hand and consider attending a support group. Talking to someone who understands can bring reassurance and enable you to learn new coping skills

Aware has a number of free services that offer support and information, find out more >>

Blog posts

Blog - Bipolar Disorder - Sinead
Living openly with bipolar disorder
Blog - Bipolar Disorder - Declan
Living well with bipolar disorder
Blog - My Experience of Dysphoric Elation
My experience of dysphoric elation

Helpful talks on bipolar disorder

If you would like to do some further reading, please see Aware’s Recommended Reading List.

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Living well with bipolar disorder

Problems with detection and diagnosis

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Treatment and preventing relapse

Feeding your mental health

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Sleep well to live well

Brain imaging in bipolar disorder

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