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Mar 30
It's World Bipolar Day

By: Willemien Jansen (Content and Copy Editor)

People often joke about the weather being bipolar, without realising how offensive and hurtful this can be. This is why the world observes World Bipolar Day on 30 March – Vincent van Gogh's birthday. The brilliant painter was posthumously diagnosed as having Bipolar Disorder. Bipolar Disorder was also previously called Manic Depression, but this term has not been in use medically in a long time. World Bipolar Day was initially an initiative by the International Society of Bipolar Disorder (ISBD), partnering with the International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF) and the Asian Network of Bipolar Disorder. The National Today contains the complete history of the initiative. Bipolar Disorder is not well understood and has a lot of stigma surrounding it, and World Bipolar Day is meant to break the stigma, educate and help people to understand this condition.

But what is Bipolar Disorder? Bipolar Disorder is a serious mental and mood disorder. It is a chronic disease that requires life-long management. The Mayo Clinic contains all the information you can possibly need about symptoms, treatment, and management. The illness is much more complicated than just mania and depression; there are many symptoms and mood overlapping, and that is what makes the illness so complicated. There is no clear cause or diagnosis, which is what make this illness so difficult to understand.

The many celebrities who have admitted to having the disorder, especially Carrie Fisher of Star Wars fame, has helped to change people's perspective about the illness. Other celebrities who have admitted to having bipolar disorder are Catherine Zeta-Jones, Demi Lovato, Russell Brand, Stephen Fry and many, many others. These celebrities, and others, have done groundbreaking work by sharing their stories and creating awareness about the illness. Their stories are shared here.

What these celebrities show us is that being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, although it is a chronic illness, does not have to ruin your life. There are ways to manage the illness that make it possible to lead a relatively normal life, and even to thrive. Some of these things are:

  1. Get treatment!! Learn everything you can about the disorder, and regularly interact with your psychiatrist and psychologist. It is very important that you NEVER just stop your meds, as this can have dangerous withdrawal symptoms.
  2. Monitor your moods. Especially when you have just been diagnosed, it is important to try to establish what triggers your moods and how they are triggered. You can do this by keeping a mood chart or diary. Triggers can include, lack of sleep, stress, financial difficulties, problems at school and even seasonal changes.
  3. Reach out to others. When depressed it is easy to just want to isolate, but this in fact makes depression worse. Spend time with people in your life who know and understand your illness. It can also be very helpful to join an in-person support group, but even an online one will be helpful.
  4. Develop a routine. Building structure in your life can lessen stress and feeling out of control, which will lessen anxiety. If you can work some light exercise into that structure, all the better.
  5. Keeping stress to a minimum. You will need to learn how far you can push yourself mentally, when you need more sleep and find time to just relax and make leisure time.
  6. Watch what you put in your body. Unfortunately, psychiatric medication does not go well with alcohol, so keep drinking to a minimum. Avoid self-medicating with substances and rather ask your doctor to help you get onto the right combination of medication. Understand the medication you are taking and what they do exactly. Don't be scared to ask your doctor as many questions as you need to.

Bipolar Disorder is a serious mental illness and mood disorder, and often completely misunderstood. If you or anyone you know has Bipolar Disorder or suspect that they do, please have a look at the hyperlinks in this article. You can also visit The South African Depression and Anxiety Group. The website contains information about various mental illnesses, helplines and information about different support groups.


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