Bipolar disorder, a health concern

Doreen Marilyn ANDOH

Bipolar Disorder formerly known as maniac depression, is a mental illness marked by extreme mood swings or mood changes from high to low (depressive episodes) and from and low to high (mania or hypomania episodes). The exact cause of bipolar disorder is not known but a blend or merger of environment, genetics, altered brain structure may play a role.

The illness can be clinically or medically diagnosed. Manic episodes may include symptoms of high energy, reduced need for sleep (insomnia) and loss of touch with reality. Depressive episodes may include symptoms such as low energy, low motivation and loss of interest in daily activities. Mood episodes last days to months at a time and may also be associated with suicidal thoughts. The condition can be clinically or medically diagnosed without lab testing.

Bipolar Disorder comes in three types. All three types involve clear changes in mood, energy, and activity levels. These moods range from periods of extremely elated, irritable, or energized behavior (known as manic episodes) to very “down,” sad, indifferent, or hopeless periods (known as depressive episodes). Less severe manic periods are known as hypomanic episodes.

  • Bipolar I Disorder: This is defined by manic episodes that last at least seven days, or by manic symptoms that are so severe that the person needs immediate hospital care. Usually, depressive episodes occur as well, typically lasting at least two weeks. Episodes of depression with mixed features (having depressive symptoms and manic symptoms at the same time) are also possible.
  • Bipolar II Disorder: This is defined by a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes, but not the full-blown manic episodes that are typical of Bipolar I Disorder.
  • Cyclothymic Disorder: This is defined by periods of hypomanic symptoms as well as periods of depressive symptoms lasting for at least 2 years (1 year in children and adolescents). However, the symptoms do not meet the diagnostic requirements for a hypomanic episode and a depressive episode.

Sometimes a person might experience symptoms of bipolar disorder that do not match the three categories above, which is referred to as “other specified and unspecified bipolar and related disorders.”

Bipolar disorder is typically diagnosed during late adolescence (teen years) or early adulthood. Occasionally, bipolar symptoms can appear in children. Bipolar disorder can also first appear during a woman’s pregnancy or following childbirth. Although the symptoms may vary over time, bipolar disorder usually requires lifelong treatment. Following a prescribed treatment plan can help people manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

Signs and Symptoms

People with bipolar disorder experience several periods of uncommon intense emotion, changes in sleep patterns and activity levels, and unusual behaviors without taking into consideration their likely harmful effects. These periods are called “mood episodes.” Mood episodes are very different from the moods and behaviors that are typical for the person. During an episode, the symptoms last every day for most of the day. Episodes may also last for as long as a week or even months

People having a manic episode may: feel very elated, irritated or touchy or high while people with depressive episodes may feel very sad, down empty, hopeless or worried

Sometimes people experience both manic and depressive symptoms in the same episode. This kind of episode is called an episode with mixed features. People experiencing an episode with mixed features may feel very sad, empty, or hopeless, while, at the same, time feeling extremely energized.

A person may have bipolar disorder even if their symptoms are less extreme. For instance, people with bipolar disorder (Bipolar II) experience hypomania, a less severe form of mania. During a hypomanic episode, a person may feel very good, may be able to get things done, and keep up with daily activities. Such a person may not feel that there is anything wrong, but family and friends may recognize the changes in mood or activity levels Without proper treatment, people with hypomania can develop severe mania or depression.


Proper diagnosis and treatment can help people with bipolar disorder lead healthy and active lives. Talking with a doctor or other licensed health care provider is the first step. The health care provider can complete a physical exam and order necessary medical tests to rule out other conditions. The health care provider may then conduct a mental health evaluation or provide a referral to a trained mental health care provider, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or clinical social worker who has experience in diagnosing and treating bipolar disorder.

Mental health care providers usually diagnose bipolar disorder based on a person’s symptoms, lifetime history, experiences, and, in some cases, family history. Accurate diagnosis in youth is particularly important.

People with bipolar disorder are more likely to seek help when they are depressed than when they are experiencing mania or hypomania. Taking a careful medical history is essential to ensure that bipolar disorder is not mistaken for major depression. This is especially important when treating an initial episode of depression as antidepressant medications can trigger a manic episode in people who have an increased chance of having bipolar disorder.

Way to go – policies

  1. Labour Union should consider a policy for all employees to have regular routine checks for their staff/employees to either detect bipolar symptoms early.
  2. Ghana Health Service should institutionalize a health pack for all companies as standards to go through.
  3. Public health education should address bipolar disorders and other mental disorders to create awareness to the general populace and help curb it.
  4. The GES must include elective study of mental disorders in school curricular.
  1. More functional units or structural systems should be set up to regulate rendering of support or assistance to discriminated persons living with bipolar disorder and other mental health disorders.
  2. Health professionals like Clinical Psychologists, Psychiatrists, should sacrifice and stay committed to the interest in mental health even though it is stigmatized and not seen as an income-generating field in our part of the world.

>>>The writer is a third-year student at the University of Professional Studies Accra (UPSA) studying Public Relations Management and is also a Research Assistant at Kandifo Institute. She is passionate about self-development and self-improvement in her personal life. She seeks to challenge herself in every aspect of life and is also passionate about women empowerment.

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