Bipolar disorder, which is also known as manic depression, often goes unrecognised by the patient, friends and even doctors.
Sufferers go through phases of what may be hypomania - a state in which the person shows a high level of energy, excessive moodiness or irritability, impulsive or reckless behaviour.
Hypomania may feel good to the person who experiences it and so even when family and friends learn to recognise the mood swings, the individual will often deny that anything is wrong, explains Frank Bergmann, who chairs the German Federation of Psychiatric Doctors based in Neuss.
In its early stages, bipolar disorder may masquerade as a problem other than mental illness. It may first appear as alcohol or drug abuse, or poor school or work performance. If left untreated, bipolar disorder tends to worsen, and the person experiences episodes of full-fledged manic episodes and depressive episodes.
Symptoms associated with other illnesses
Many of the signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder can also be associated with other illnesses, such as anxiety disorders and schizophrenia. This can make it even harder for a healthcare provider to make a correct diagnosis.
"In the manic phase many patients have boundless energy, sleep little and display an excessive need to talk along with a gross overestimation of their own abilities," said the expert from Aachen.
Most bipolar sufferers are energetic and creative, but their failure to modify their behaviour at will invariably exposes them to physical danger or even financial ruin. The depressive phases of the illness prompt patients to withdraw completely from their surroundings. They lack energy and their thoughts often turn to suicide.
Early recognition of bipolar disorder is the key to a correct course of treatment even though the complaint cannot be fully cured, says Bergmann. The prescription of mood-stabilising drugs at an early stage can also considerably enhance the quality of life. An estimated 1% to 3% of the population may suffer from bipolar disorder at some point in their lives and the illness often begins shortly after puberty or when patients are in their early 20s. – (Sapa)
What is bipolar disorder?
Koos Kombuis and the bipolar row