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Bipolar Disorder

  What is Bipolar Disorder?
"Bi" means two, and "polar", like the north and south poles, means extreme opposites. So if you have bipolar disorder you will experience extremes in mood.

Its full name is Bipolar Affective Disorder with the affective bit meaning your mood. The extremes can involve a "high" mood, sometimes called mania, and/or very low moods or depression. It is normal for your mood to go up and down, but in Bipolar Disorder the changes are more extreme. Often between the highs and lows, a person experiencing Bipolar Disorder may feel okay.

What happens when you're high?
People experience things differently but examples of some ways you may feel or behave are:
Feeling like nothing can beat you and you are on top of the world
Feeling restless and overactive
Not wanting or needing sleep
Being very easily distracted
Becoming easily irritated and feeling angry, showing aggression and blaming others
Engaging in risk taking activity a lot, like driving really dangerously, drinking heaps of alcohol or having unsafe sex
Becoming more impulsive, for example spending loads of money, sometimes building up big credit bills
Feeling as though your thoughts are racing, talking really quickly, talking rubbish and switching topics a lot in conversation
Believing that you are special or able to do special things that you may not really be able to do. You may even think you have special powers or relationships with important or famous people when this is not really true
Suddenly having heaps of energy to pursue goals. These goals are often unrealistic.
Suddenly feeling like you have lots of great ideas and full of creativity
You may start believing things, which people around you don't agree with and which don't make sense. You may also hear or see things that other people don't
When you are high it may be tricky to realise that things are not as good as they seem to you. It is often difficult when people start saying it is an illness especially if you feel great, energetic and full of ideas. This makes getting help really hard sometimes.

What happens when you are "low"?
Some signs of the depression that is low mood might be:
Loss of interest in just about everything (mates, sports, hobbies etc.)
Feeling tired all the time and having little energy
Losing or putting on weight
Being forgetful
Can't concentrate
Tense muscles and headaches or other pains and aches you can not explain
Feeling stink. Feeling worthless, hopeless and full of negative stuff
Sometimes feeling like you can't go on and want to die

Different people have different experiences of highs and lows in Bipolar Disorder. Some young people have lots of highs with few (if any) lows, whereas others often have lows and may only have had one high period. Some people have very clear patterns of high following low or the other way round.

How does Bipolar Disorder develop?
Around 1 in every 100 people develop bipolar affective disorder. We don't know for sure but we do know that you are more likely to experience Bipolar if someone in your family has had similar problems. It is thought that an imbalance of brain chemicals may be responsible and also that hormones may play a part in its development in adolescence. Professionals talk about a "stress vulnerability" model, which means that some people are more vulnerable because of things like their genes, brain chemistry or whatever and the disorder then develops if you get really stressed. It is important to remember that it is not your fault and it is not a sign of being punished or weakness.

So if you have Bipolar Disorder, what can you do about it?
Learn about it and how it affects you
Look after yourself
Be kind to yourself and don't be hard on yourself for having bipolar disorder
Get some professional support
Talk to someone who understands and can help you
Taking medication where it is advised
Learning how to manage stress and making sure you spend some time relaxing and resting
Looking after your physical health. Healthy body = healthy mind you know!
Spotting your own "early warning signs" of when you may be going high or low
Identifying someone you trust to help set limits when you are in a high phase
Some people find a support group of people experiencing or who have experienced similar feelings as you
Sometimes the mood may be so extreme that a brief period in hospital may be the best thing to do. This is usually when the things someone is thinking or doing is putting them at risk of harm.
If you get down as part of a bipolar Disorder, it may be useful to read the Depression pages of this website to get more information about this.

Who can help?
In the first instance talking to someone you trust is the key. So this may be a teacher, family doctor, school counsellor or minister and they may offer you the support you need to decide what is best to do.

We think that if you, or someone you know, has possibly developed Bipolar Disorder, it is important to see a mental health professional as soon as possible. This may sound scary, but actually professionals like psychologists, nurses, occupational therapists, psychiatrists and social workers are just people who have special training to understand disorders like this so can offer the best advice. Talk to your family doctor or school counsellor about how to access these professionals.

You may want to check out the following links to find out more about Bipolar Disorder.

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