By Muhammad Faiz
“Depression is a painfully slow, crashing death. Mania is the other extreme, a wild roller coaster run off its tracks, an eight ball of coke cut with speed. It’s fun and it’s frightening as hell. Some patients – bipolar type I – experience both extremes; other – bipolar type II – suffer depression almost exclusively. But the “mixed state,” the mercurial churning of both high and low, is the most dangerous, the deadliest. Suicide too often results from the impulsive nature and physical speed of psychotic mania coupled with depression’s paranoid self-loathing.”
-David Lovelace, Scattershot: My Bipolar Family-
Have you ever had friends who frequently have terrible mood swings? Friends that if they are happy, they are too happy and at ease at themselves, and if they are sad, sometimes it can lead them to depression. More so to feeling suicidal.
Most importantly, how can we help them as a friend?
Bipolar disorder is one common mental illness that many people are going through. It is a mental health problem that commonly affects people’s mood. People who have bipolar disorder are prone to have different mood swings at apparent time and at any moment. It also could cause people to have mood changes in sleep, energy, thinking and behaviour. Bipolar disorder is also usually known as manic depression. There are different episodes that the person could have, which is hypo-manic episodes and depressive episodes and at any moment when they are having one of those episodes, they potentially could have psychotic symptoms.
Hypo-manic episodes are when the patients have a milder symptoms of mania. It is when they do not have delusions or any hallucinations, and the high symptoms does not interfere with their daily routines. Meanwhile, depressive episodes describe when the patients are very sad and feeling depressed. It is also usually known as clinical depression as the symptoms are the same, a condition of someone in which never encounter any manic or hypo-manic episodes.
The symptoms of bipolar disorder are different depending to which episode they are living in at the moment. As the patients can have hypo-manic episode or depressive episode, they also could have symptoms for hypo-manic or symptoms for depressive episode respectively. When they are feeling high or having a hypo-manic episode, their symptoms are different and will not necessarily show the same patterns except their exaggerating actions. Here’s the list for the symptoms of hypo-manic episode;
Excessive happiness, hopefulness, and excitement
Sudden changes of moods
Rapid speech and poor concentration
Increased energy and less need for sleep
Unusually high sexual drive
Being unrealistic in term of making plan
Alcohol and substance uses
Becoming more impulsive
In contrast of symptoms of hypo-manic episode, the symptoms for depressive episode is different in terms of pattern. The pattern for depressive attitude is usually a negative attitudes and behaviours that could harm themselves. Here’s the list for the symptoms of depressive episode;
Being sad all the time
Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
Trouble making decisions
Easily irritated and being irritating
Drastic loss or gain weight
Suicidal thought and tendencies
People who have mental illness such as bipolar disorder will require an ongoing treatment as it is a long term condition. In order to cure bipolar disorder, the main treatment is medication. The medication usually used is mood stabilisers, anti-psychotic drugs and it could also be both, depending to the condition of the patients. They are also recommended to go to a psychotherapy or a talk therapy. As vital as the medication and the talk therapy to the patient so that they can get better, nothing more vital and important than the support system, which is family and friends.
Due to the complicated nature of bipolar disorder, most of the people such as family and friends, they do not have any ideas on how to help. Simply put, they do not have any ideas on how to be the backbones, on how to support and how to be there at every step to be better. It is like they are walking on an egg shells slowly with their eyes closed, with no guidelines and not knowing what to do. Here are some of the tips that we can use to act as a support system to our loved ones who have bipolar disorder.
Firstly, we need to read information from reputable web sites, books, and articles that explain the condition. The more you know, the better. Besides that, we need to pay attention to what your loved one has to say. We cannot assume that you know what he or she is going through and don’t dismiss all of their emotions and feelings as signs of their illness as excuses. Someone with bipolar disorder may still have valid points. Nevertheless, we also need to always encourage them to stick with treatments and we must be aware of the symptoms. Sometimes, the patient does not realise the symptoms as they are not aware and that is where the support system needs to come in so that we can notice their symptoms beforehand.
Last but not least, if they are our family members, it is important and extremely beneficial if we try to stick them to a schedule daily. Things that could be included in the schedule is our common necessities such as time to eat, time to sleep and also time for mediation or prayers. Being physically healthy by exercise also could help them to be more focus in life. However, we cannot let them do the activities alone since it is much better if we can accompany them doing those things as our act of supports.
Lastly, and most important thing to do is to show them that we do care by expressing our own concerns to them. However, these tips are hard things to do as they can misinterpret the points that we said due to the nature of the messages. Perhaps they feel that we are pointing out their mistakes. To avoid misconceptions, we must make it very clear our points of view and intentions such as telling them how their actions could affect and make people around them feel. Usually, it is better to do this with the attendance of a third party such as a counsellor, who can act as a mediator between the patient and the support system. ***