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Demystifying Bipolar Disorder Mental illness awareness month – July 2013

Demystifying Bipolar Disorder
Mental illness awareness month – July 2013
What does people like Sinéad O’Connor, Friedrich
Nietzsche, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Marilyn Monroe,
Charles Dickens and Ludwig van Beethoven have in
common? They have all been diagnosed with a mental
illness called Bipolar- or Manic Depressive Disorder.
If you look at the list of famous people that have been
diagnosed with this disorder, you will find writers, poets,
actors, mathematicians, politicians, artists, comedians, rap
artists, models, athletes – actually people from all walks
of life. If you really think about it, will the list of people
being diagnosed with diabetes or those that died of a heart
attack be any different? Then why the stigma?
According to The South African Depression and Anxiety
Group (SADAG) – Bipolar disorder is common – affecting
about 1% of the population. Men and women are equally
effected. While the disorder has been seen in children,
the usual age of onset is late adolescence and early
adulthood. Bipolar disorder is not restricted to any social
or educational class, race, or nationality.
Bipolar disorder which is also known as manic-depressive
illness, is a mental illness marked by extreme changes in
mood, energy and behaviour. The person’s mood usually
swings from overly “high” and irritable to sad and hopeless,
and then back again, with periods of normal moods in
The exact cause of bipolar disorder is not known, but it is
believed to be a combination of the following factors:
Biochemistry – a chemical imbalance in the brain.
Genetics – the disorder tends to run in families.
However, if you have bipolar disorder and your
spouse does not, there is only a 1 in 7 chance that
your child will develop it.
Psychological stress – sometimes a stressful life
event such as a loss of a job, marital difficulties, or
a death in the family may trigger mania and/or
Some mood episodes that can occur with a person
suffering from Bipolar disorder are:
Manic episodes – the mood can be abnormally
elevated, euphoric, or irritable. Thoughts race and
speech is rapid. Energy level is high, self-esteem
inflated, sociability increased, and enthusiasm
Depressive episodes – Feeling sad, blue, down
in the dumps and losing interest in everyday
activities they normally enjoy. An inability to
experience pleasure. Concentration is difficult and
decision making impaired.
Mixed episodes – Perhaps the most disabling
episodes are those that involve symptoms of both
mania and depression occurring at the same time.
The person is excitable, or agitated as in mania
but also feel irritable and depressed.
The outlook for people with bipolar disorder today is
optimistic. Many new and promising treatments have been
developed and with the right treatment a person should be
able to lead a full and balanced life.
Bipolar disorder is a serious condition that carries with
it symptoms which are often among the most painful of
all diseases; and can cause a great deal of damage to
the body if left untreated. Please remember that a joke or
loose comment about someone being crazy or a nut can
prevent a person to speak up about their discomfort and
need for intervention.
Please join us in the effort to destigmatise mental illness by
encouraging those around you to seek help if necessary