Bipolar disorder, often known as manic depression, is an illness marked by excessive emotional highs and lows. According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag), bipolar disorder affects up to 1% of the South African population.
Gracherd Peterson (56) from Cape Town accounts among the 1% of those living with bipolar disorder. He hopes to raise awareness and inspire others to seek help if they might need mental health support. Peterson was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1982.
“I wanted to study mechanical engineering but I could not finish matric as I had a phobia for school. My parents did not know what was wrong with me until I went to the clinic to get medication,” says Peterson.
What is bipolar disorder?
Dr Jacky Jenkins from the Eerste River Hospital tells Health For Mzansi that bipolar disorder is a mental illness involving episodes of serious *mania and depression. The person’s mood usually swings from overly “high” and irritable to sad and hopeless, and then back again, with periods of normal mood in between.
Meanwhile, Dr Cornecia McClean, also from the Eerste River Hospital, explains that bipolar disorder is a mental illness with two phases.
“In the manic phase you can be loud, busy and delusional. During the depressive phase you don’t feel like engaging, can feel sad, and sometimes sleep a lot. It is an illness that requires life-long treatment. If you don’t seek and continue with treatment, your condition can become worse and you can put yourself at risk,” explains McClean.
Assessing and treating the condition
Sometimes seeking treatment requires the patient’s family to support them and take them to the clinic, explains advanced psychiatric nurse at Gustrfouw Clinic, Sister Carryn Stephens.
“When patients come to us, they are sometimes very guarded and it helps if a family member escorts them and can tell us what happened. We will talk to both the patient and the family member to assess their condition and to identify possible signs of mental health conditions, such as bipolar disorder.”
If you or someone you know lives with a mental health condition, you can go to your local clinic where a health worker will assess you and offer initial treatment.
According to Sadag, possible signs that you may need help or treatment for bipolar disorder, include:
- Needing little sleep yet having great amounts of energy.
- Talking so fast that others can’t follow your thinking.
- Having racing thoughts.
- Being so easily distracted that your attention shifts between many topics in just a few minutes.
- Having an inflated feeling of power, greatness or importance.
- Recurring thoughts of suicide or death.
- Severe depression may also include hallucination or delusion.
- Problems concentrating, remembering or making decision.
- Feeling slowed down or feeling too agitated to sit still.
- Feeling worthless of guilty or having very low self-esteem.
You can also contact Sadag to join a support group or for more information.
What’s food got to do with it?
We know that our food choices are important to maintain a healthy body and preventing disease. Expanding research now suggests nutrition could impact our mental health too, says Association for Dietetics in South Africa spokesperson Kelly Scholtz.
“Mental healthcare professionals are increasingly including a healthy diet as one of the essential steps in the management of mood disorders, and nutrition can play a role in protecting mental health during times of both acute and chronic stress,” adds Scholtz.
It is important to understand that the relationship between nutrition and mental health is complex, notes dietitian Kgadi Moabelo.
“Our physical health and mental well-being are inextricably linked. Therefore, when we eat well for our bodies, we’re inevitably also eating well for our minds.”
Moabelo adds that stress plays a big part in overeating, that leads to obesity. “Stress, through a complex pathway in the brain, can cause increased production of the ‘hunger hormone’ called ghrelin, which can lead to overeating,” she says.
“Stress can also lead to reduced physical activity, which over time sets you on a path to being overweight, obesity and metabolic syndrome resulting in the development of depression.”
*Health For Mzansi word of the the Day
Mania: According to Healthline, mania can be explained as a psychological condition that causes a person to experience unreasonable euphoria, very intense moods, hyperactivity and delusions.