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What is Bipolar Disorder? (Formerly Manic Depression)

by Dr Marianne Trent & Sam Swidsinski


This article has been adapted from episode 135 of The Aspiring psychologist Podcast. If you prefer you can listen here or watch here. 


In a compelling episode of the Aspiring Psychologist Podcast, Dr. Marianne Trent delves into the complexities of bipolar disorder with guest Sam Swidzinski. Sam, who has lived experience with bipolar disorder, provides invaluable insights into the condition, its challenges, and strategies for managing it effectively.


Early Diagnosis and Personal Journey

Sam's journey with bipolar disorder began at the age of 18 when he was diagnosed after years of struggling with his mental health. His early diagnosis was relatively rare, given that many individuals often wait over nine years for a diagnosis. Sam attributes his timely diagnosis to the support and intervention of people he met through participating in mental health research, which eventually led to his diagnosis and the care he needed.


What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder, previously known as manic depression, is characterised by extreme mood swings that include emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression). Sam explains that these mood swings are more severe than the typical ups and downs experienced by most people. Bipolar type one involves severe mania that can lead to hospitalisation, while bipolar type two involves hypomania, a less severe form of mania, but typically longer depressive episodes.


Mania and Hypomania Explained

Mania is a high-energy state that can result in decreased need for sleep, racing thoughts, and sometimes hallucinations or delusions. These symptoms significantly impair daily functioning and can lead to risky behaviours. Hypomania, on the other hand, is less intense but still involves elevated mood and activity levels. While it may not disrupt life to the extent that mania does, it still poses challenges.


The Importance of Early Diagnosis and Treatment

Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial in managing bipolar disorder. Sam emphasises the importance of recognising early symptoms and seeking professional help. Effective management often involves a combination of medication and therapy. Sam himself has found that a mixture of both has been essential in maintaining stability and improving his quality of life.


Living with Bipolar Disorder

Living with bipolar disorder requires a structured and consistent lifestyle. Sam highlights the importance of routines, such as maintaining regular sleep patterns and avoiding triggers that could lead to mood swings. He also underscores the significance of understanding one’s own triggers and early warning signs, which can help in managing the condition proactively.


The Role of Therapy

Therapy plays a significant role in managing bipolar disorder. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and other forms of counselling help individuals understand their condition and develop coping strategies. Sam also mentions cognitive remediation therapy, which focuses on improving cognitive functions and helping individuals apply problem-solving skills in their daily lives.


Medication: A Crucial Component

While therapy is essential, medication often forms the backbone of treatment for many people with bipolar disorder. Sam discusses the importance of finding the right medication and dosage, which can be a trial-and-error process. Medication helps stabilise mood swings and prevent the severe highs and lows characteristic of bipolar disorder.


Addressing Stigma and Misconceptions

Sam addresses the stigma surrounding bipolar disorder and the misconceptions that often accompany it. He emphasises that bipolar disorder is not just about having mood swings; it is a serious condition that requires understanding and appropriate treatment. Public education and awareness are vital in reducing stigma and supporting those affected by the disorder.


Final Thoughts and Resources

Sam’s journey is a testament to the power of resilience and the importance of seeking help. For those suspecting they might have bipolar disorder, Sam recommends resources such as Bipolar UK, which offers e-learning packages and a Mood Tracker app to help individuals monitor their symptoms.


If you or someone you know is struggling with bipolar disorder, it’s essential to seek professional help. Early intervention can make a significant difference in managing the condition and improving quality of life.


Conclusion

This episode of the Aspiring Psychologist Podcast provides a comprehensive look at bipolar disorder through the lens of lived experience. Sam Swidzinski’s insights offer hope and practical advice for managing the condition. Whether you are a mental health professional, someone with bipolar disorder, or a caregiver, this episode is a valuable resource for understanding and navigating this complex condition.


For more information and to listen to the full episode, check out the Aspiring Psychologist Podcast on your favourite podcast platform or on YouTube.


Check out my books for Aspiring Psychologists here: https://www.goodthinkingpsychology.co.uk/my-books
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