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Bipolar Disorder: Helpful tips from Professional Counsellors

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Affecting approximately 1% of the general population, bipolar disorder is a mental illness that is still in need of greater understanding and awareness (HealthLinkBC, n.d.). For example, many people may know that manic episodes are often characterized by an elevated mood and sense of self-esteem (Mind, n.d.). However, while this is often the case, what they might not realise is that periods of mania can include feelings of irritability and anger as well (Mind, n.d.). Other myths surrounding bipolar disorder may be more harmful, such as the myth that those with bipolar disorder are simply trying to excuse mood swings, that they cannot work, or that their illness is impossible to manage (Mood Disorders Association of BC, 2017).

For those currently living with bipolar disorder, the reduction of stigma as well as the care and guidance provided by mental health services can have a profound impact on wellbeing. Continue reading to learn more about bipolar disorder, and how you can help those living with it once you become a counselling therapist.

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

There are several different types of bipolar disorder, including Bipolar I Disorder, Bipolar II Disorder, and Cyclothymic Disorder (National Institute of Mental Health, n.d.). Each of these is characterised by a distinct set of symptoms. However, each type of bipolar disorder includes “clear changes in mood, energy, and activity levels” (National Institute of Mental Health, n.d.). These range from episodes of mania or hypomania to episodes of depression, with periods of wellness and stability in between (CAMH, n.d.).

During mania, the individual experiences “exaggerated self-esteem,” “decreased need for sleep,” and “excessive energy for activities.” By contrast, depressive episodes are marked by a “loss of energy,” “feelings of worthlessness and guilt,” and a “loss of interest or pleasure in activities that used to be enjoyable” (CAMH, n.d.). In some extreme cases of mania or depression, those living with bipolar disorder may even experience psychosis, and have delusions or hear voices (CAMH, n.d.). Episodes of hypomania, on the other hand, are similar to those of mania, but are less severe (CAMH, n.d.).

According to one recent study, the “average length of time someone with Bipolar I disorder spends either depressed or manic is about 13 weeks” (Grohol, n.d.). However, some people living with bipolar disorder may experience longer or shorter episodes, while others may even cycle rapidly between the two within the same week or day (Grohol, n.d.). In some cases, it is even possible for someone with bipolar disorder to experience both depression and mania at the same time in what is known as a mixed episode (CAMH, n.d.).

While it is fully possible for those with bipolar disorder to live a rich and fulfilling life, many symptoms of bipolar disorder can be challenging and stressful for the individual and their loved ones (HealthLinkBC, n.d.). Periods of mania can include risky behaviour, such as reckless spending or turning to drugs or alcohol (Mind, n.d.).

How Bipolar Disorder Can Affect Work and Career Progression

Because of the disruptive nature of symptoms, as well as the cyclical nature of manic and depressive episodes, career progression can be particularly challenging for those living with bipolar disorder (Mahmud, 2013). Depressive episodes can lead to loss of productivity as well as irritability, which can cause tension and difficulty with coworkers (Mahmud, 2013). Manic episodes can also cause disruption in the workplace by creating “incessant flows of incoherent ideas,” which those living with bipolar disorder may “feel compelled to act upon with great urgency…” (Mahmud, 2013).

For many living with bipolar disorder, the challenges presented by their symptoms are only part of the equation. Stigma surrounding bipolar disorder can also impact career progression (Mahmud, 2013). Coworkers might treat someone with bipolar disorder differently, or withhold assigning them certain responsibilities for fear that they won’t be equipped to handle them (Mahmud, 2013). Indeed, while many important strides have been made in raising awareness, stigma surrounding bipolar disorder is still common. According to one study, “over 50% of all respondents [with bipolar disorder] believed that the average person is afraid of those with mental illnesses, that stigma associated with mental illness has affected their quality of life, and that their self-esteem has suffered due to stigma.” (Mileva, Vázquez, & Milev, 2013) Fortunately, by helping to reduce stigma, graduates of counselling therapist school can help to pave the way for greater understanding and quality of life.

Helping Clients Maintain Meaningful Relationships During Your Therapist Career

Some people may believe that those living with bipolar disorder cannot maintain healthy and lasting relationships, especially romantic ones (Leung, n.d.). However, professionals with counsellor training know this is far from the case; those living with bipolar disorder can and do have close relationships.

Open communication is essential to maintaining close relationships

Open communication is essential to maintaining close relationships

By using healthy and open communication strategies, those living with bipolar disorder can inform their partner about their condition so that they can work together to navigate episodes and catch early warning signs of their onset (Leung, n.d.). Strong communication strategies can also help couples navigate difficult episodes (American Psychological Association, n.d.). These communication strategies include working collaboratively, listening carefully to each other, and respecting each person’s point of view (American Psychological Association, n.d.). By using these approaches, clients with bipolar disorder can develop and maintain close relationships with their loved ones.

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Works Cited

American Psychological Association (n.d.) Happy couples: How to keep your relationship healthy. Retrieved December 18, 2018 from: https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/healthy-relationships.aspx

CAMH (n.d.) Bipolar Disorder. Retrieved December 18, 2018 from: https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-illness-and-addiction-index/bipolar-disorder

Grohol, J. (n.d.) How Long is a Typical Bipolar Episode? Psych Central. Retrieved December 18, 2018 from:  https://psychcentral.com/blog/how-long-is-a-typical-bipolar-episode/

HealthLinkBC (n.d.) Bipolar Disorder. Retrieved December 18, 2018 from:  https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-topics/hw148751

Leung, J. (n.d.) ‘So, I’m bipolar’: 9 tips for dating with the condition. Medium. Retrieved December 18, 2018 from: https://medium.com/adahealth/so-im-bipolar-9-tips-for-dating-with-the-condition-63615f30f11

Mahmud, N. (2013) Working with bipolar disorder: challenges and changes. The Guardian. Retrieved December 18, 2018 from: https://www.theguardian.com/careers/careers-blog/bipolar-professionals-challenges-workplace

Mileva, V.,  Vázquez, G., & Milev, R. (2013) Effects, experiences, and impact of stigma on patients with bipolar disorder. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment. 9, 31–40. doi: 10.2147/NDT.S38560

Mind (n.d.) Hypomania and mania. Retrieved December 18, 2018 from: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/hypomania-and-mania/#.XA7AP9tKh1s

Mood Disorders Association of BC (2017) Bipolar Disorder: Myths and facts. Here to Help. Retrieved December 18, 2018 from:  http://www.heretohelp.bc.ca/factsheet/bipolar-disorder-myths-and-facts

National Institute of Mental Health (n.d.) Bipolar Disorder. Retrieved December 18, 2018 from:  https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/bipolar-disorder/index.shtml