Mental illness just like a roller coaster ride

Anyone who has ridden roller-coasters at amusement parks can best describe the anxiety and the thrill of having experienced such a ride. They know how it is to ride up and down through various ‘valleys’ and ‘mountains’, turning upside down and passing through vertical loops and in different directions. Panic turns into excitement for the excited riders, but for first-timers and those who have never been adrenaline junkies, there is fear or else motion sickness. And after the ride, riders either happily share their experience or seek treatment for nausea.

For people who suffer from bipolar disorder, the roller coaster ride never stops – and it is a ride they never want to take and an experience they never want to share.


What is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness that causes dramatic or unusual shifts in the emotions, mood, behaviour, and energy levels of the individual to function in their everyday life. The word “bipolar” mean “two extremes”.

Medical experts have yet to determine the single cause of bipolar disorder, but several factors do seem to help cause or trigger the illness. For one, bipolar disorder sometimes runs in the family. Individuals who have a parent suffering from the illness are at risk of developing it, but that is not always the case. Another factor is the brain function of the person with the illness, which occurs from an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. In addition, situations that trigger the illness in some people include:

  • Traumatic event or emotional shock
  • Stressful situation
  • Medication or drug use
  • Insomnia or sleep deprivation


For people who suffer bipolar disorder, life is split between two different realities: elation and depression. They experience alternate episodes of extreme highs (mania) and extreme lows (depression). Episodes can shift rapidly but they don’t happen in just short time spans (10 minutes, 2 hours or even a day) – they usually occur over several days, weeks or even months. However, it is possible they may experience both extremes at the same time.

Individuals display different abnormal moods changes at various intervals. For example, they could feel depressed for 3-4 months, return to their normal self for a few months, become manic for a couple of months, and then back to the normal state.


The highs and lows of bipolar disorder

The episodes can get noticeably stronger, especially when the individual feels depressed. People who are bipolar and are feeling down show symptoms similar to depression or low moods identical to a related disorder called major depressive disorder or unipolar depression. Individuals may display the following symptoms:

  • Hallucinations or delusions
  • Hopelessness
  • Worthlessness
  • Excessive guilt
  • Extreme exhaustion or fatigue
  • Inability to concentrate or lack of mental focus
  • Loss of interests in activities or hobbies
  • Abnormal weight gain or weight loss
  • Insomnia or oversleep
  • Thoughts of death or suicide


Along with these extreme lows, individuals also experience episodes of high moods (something which sets them apart from people who suffer unipolar depression) called manic episodes or hypomanic episodes, depending on their levels of severity. Individuals may display the following symptoms, which on the surface might look like positive characteristics:

  • Too much happiness (euphoria) or optimism
  • Overconfidence or high self-esteem
  • Pressured speech (talking fast and erratic)
  • Excessive need for activity
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Much less sleep
  • No self-control (reckless spending, reckless behaviour)
  • Racing thoughts
  • Feeling wired or super-charged (as if they don’t need any sleep at night)
  • Delusions of grandeur
  • Poor decision-making


Who are the victims?

Bipolar disorder can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, race, economic status or profession. But the mental disorder is most commonly found in 16-24 year olds, since it is an emotional turning point in most people’s lives.

Bipolar disorder affects the individual’s everyday life. It causes them problems in many areas of their life, including work, health, money, and relationships. They may abuse alcohol or drugs to ease the uncomfortable symptoms of their mood swings (in depressive episodes) or as part of their recklessness and pleasure-seeking (in manic episodes). The illness, if left untreated for long, can lead the individual to attempt suicide or engage in self-destructive behaviour.


What people with bipolar disorder can do?

It is really important that individuals receive treatment or psychological intervention since there is a real danger that they could harm themselves or commit suicide. If you think you suffer from this illness, it is best to see a doctor or a mental health expert to get a correct diagnosis and the right treatment.

Doctors will prescribe prescription drugs for bipolar disorder, including mood destabilizers, antidepressants, antipsychotic drugs, and maintenance medications for individuals who are not experiencing manic or depressive episodes.

People with bipolar disorder should ensure they get enough sleep, take their meals regularly, and exercise regularly. More importantly, they must avoid alcohol and drugs as these only aggravate the symptoms. Individuals should learn how to manage their stress and always think of happy things and memories. They should also consider joining a support group.

Bipolar disorder is a roller coaster ride no one should ever take.

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