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Close to two million Kenyans suffer from mental illness according to a 2014 World Health Organization report. To paint the picture in numbers, one in every four Kenyans has a mental disorder, which may be bipolar disorder.
While public figures like Rachel Shebesh and rugby player Dennis Ombachi have openly shared their struggle with bipolar disorder, not many understand the condition. What’s more:
- Some Kenyans are going through this and are not willing to seek help
- Some don’t understand what’s happening to them
So, What’s Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition with extreme highs and extreme lows. The mood swings variation is so much that it affects your activity levels, your energy, sleep patterns, and the way you think. It affects your thoughts, the ability to focus, and subsequently changes your behavior in a negative way.
“If mood swings are a campfire, bipolar disorder is a forest fire out of control,”
Dr. Dominic Sportelli, a Double Board-certified Psychiatrist.
While bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that can’t be cured, it can be managed with the help of a mental health expert. This means you can take meds and the treatment should help reduce the symptoms.
Mental health experts treat bipolar disorder through a combination of psychotherapy and medication. So, you can get back to your usual self and enjoy a normal life if you stick with the treatment.
Bipolar Disorder Symptoms
The signs of a bipolar person could be manic symptoms, bipolar depression symptoms, or hypomania.
Manic symptoms include:
- Talking excessively
- Less need for sleep- some patients go for days without sleep
- Easily distracted- they have a flight of ideas and jump from one idea to another without giving any of them focus.
Mania episodes are characterized by excessive physical and mental energy for seven days or more, so much so, that the person needs to be hospitalized.
People with bipolar disorder type 1 sometimes have manic symptoms which alternate with bipolar depression symptoms.
Hypomania is a less severe representation of manic symptoms. It is hyperactivity for four days or less, which mostly occurs when you have bipolar disorder type 2.
A bipolar person with type 2 bipolar disorder experiences hypomania followed by periods of depressive symptoms.
Bipolar depression symptoms are:
- Feelings of extreme sadness
- Lack of energy
- Lack of emotions or motivation
Types of Bipolar Disorder
There are three types of bipolar disorder:
- Bipolar I disorder
- Bipolar II disorder
- Cyclothymic disorder or cyclothymia
All these types manifest symptoms of depression, mania, or both. It’s easy to confuse the three types of bipolar disorder, but the distinguishing factors among the three types of bipolar disorder are:
- When they begin
- How long the symptoms last, and
- How severe the manic and depressive symptoms are
Bipolar disorder can first show itself as mania, depression, or hypomania. This is why your doctor must carefully diagnose depression or bipolar disorder because the treatments for bipolar disorder and depression are completely different.
It’s quite common to make a misdiagnosis, mistaking bipolar disorder for depression like in the case of Dennis Ombachi.
1. Bipolar I Disorder Symptoms
The five warning signs of bipolar disorder type 1, whether or not you’ve been diagnosed are:
- A depressive episode before 20 years
- Antidepressants don’t work and sometimes they make your symptoms worse.
- A close relative has bipolar disorder.
- You’ve had a recurrence of 3 or more depressive episodes in five years.
- Taking mood stabilizers leads to full recovery within 30 days.
Bipolar 1 disorder is mania. It typically begins at 18 years or less but may be diagnosed earlier or later in life. The manic episodes last a week or more and can be so severe to the point that the patient requires close monitoring in a hospital.
The bipolar person may also experience depressive symptoms, although some people with bipolar disorder type 1 do not experience depressive symptoms. This could be followed by hypomania symptoms.
A person with bipolar disorder type 1 will easily get distracted, act on impulse, and have inflated self-worth ideas. This is called grandiosity. The person will think they’re a superhero of sorts, and sometimes, they’ll act like God.
Grandiosity episodes can sometimes progress to psychosis. People in this state believe they can save the world, they may spend money recklessly and/or engage in risky sexual behavior. They may also do things that they would never do in their right mind. Eventually, everything comes crashing down, and they experience an extremely low point. This is mania psychosis.
They also have a flight of ideas and can talk of doing 1000 things in a rapid and pressured speech. Additionally, they are very irritable.
A major symptom of a person with bipolar 1 disorder is they tend not to sleep and have no desire for sleep. They can go for a week without sleep.
If experiencing 3 or more of these symptoms for 7 days straight, the mental health expert will diagnose bipolar disorder type 1 after ruling out the following.
- Medical illnesses such as traumatic brain injury, temporal lobe seizures, and thyroid issues
- After effects of illicit drugs
- Recurrence of manic episodes. That is if you’ve had just one manic episode
- Depressive symptoms. As we mentioned bipolar disorder 1 may or may not have depressive symptoms
Watch out for part 2 on bipolar disorder type 2 and more.