Bipolar mood disorders as a part of a wide range of mental afflictions are one of the leading causes of mental disability globally with approximately 60 million people affected,1 which is why World Bipolar Day plays an important role in raising awareness and helping to address social stigma of the illness.


Bipolar mood disorders are mental illnesses that result in dramatic shifts in a person’s mood and behaviour. While the exact cause of bipolar mood disorder is unknown, it is believed to be a combination of biochemical, genetic and psychological factors. These shifts, or mood episodes can range from a state of euphoria and excitement to severe depression, verging on suicidal depression. Bipolar mood disorders typically begin in adolescence or early adulthood but can start at any age. It is estimated that the global prevalence of bipolar mood disorder is between one and two-percent and has been said to be as high as five-percent in some areas2.


Bipolar disorders can generally be categorised into three categories. “Bipolar l, typically includes manic or mixed episodes and depression which essentially means the symptoms of mania and depression occur at the same time. A person diagnosed with Bipolar ll usually suffers from a mild form of mania (hypomania) as well as depressive episodes but these are not full or mixed episodes,” explains Dr Ismail Moola, psychiatrist at the Life Mental Health unit based at Life St Joseph’s. Dr Moola further explains that rapid cycling is when a person experiences any combination of manic, hypomania, mixed or depressive episodes with increased frequency.


“Psychiatric disorders as a cause of occupational disability have become more recognised both globally and locally however, stigma still exists. Varying mood swings associated with bipolar mood disorder and mixed state episodes affect nearly every aspect of a person’s life if not properly diagnosed and managed, resulting in daily activities such as working seeming like an impossible task,” explains Dr Moola.


Bipolar mood disorders are heavily stigmatised and society often portrays and refers to those suffering from this mental illness as mentally unstable. This can be the case if not diagnosed or treated effectively. Untreated bipolar mood disorders can have devastating effects on individuals and their families and friends, often resulting in relationships being damaged, careers being disrupted and those with the illness suffering emotionally and physically with an increased risk of death from suicide and accident.


According to South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) around 85% of people who have a first episode of bipolar mood disorder will have another. Because of this ongoing maintenance treatment is essential in managing the illness effectively.


Education and awareness for bipolar mood disorder is also critical in addressing the stigma related to the condition and ensures that the individual, their family and friends can better understand the treatments available and support each other to ensure individuals diagnosed live fully functional lives.


Treatment ranges from a combination of evidence-based medication such as mood stabilisers, individual psychiatric consultations, psychotherapy, counselling and group therapy. Living a well-balanced lifestyle with regular exercise and good nutrition also plays a vital part in the effective management of bipolar disorders. 


Life Healthcare is one of the leading providers of private psychiatric services in South Africa and operates nine dedicated Life Mental Health units in four provinces, offering acute mental healthcare aimed at effectively treating the effects of bipolar and other mental health disorders.


“Those diagnosed should be active participants in their treatment and regularly monitor their moods with a diary. This together with compliance of medication, good coping skills, a solid support system and living a healthy lifestyle, means the illness can be well managed so that individuals can live fully and productively,” concludes Dr Moola.


Symptoms of bipolar disorders:

The symptoms of bipolar disorders can vary widely in their pattern, severity and frequency. Each of these differ from patient to patient and as such, individuals are all treated differently.


Seven common symptoms of bipolar disorder:

  • Feeling unusually “high” and optimistic or extremely irritable
  • Unrealistic, grandiose beliefs about one’s abilities or powers
  • Sleeping very little, but feeling extremely energetic
  • Racing thoughts, jumping quickly from one idea to the next
  • Impaired judgment and impulsiveness
  • Pressure of speech
  • Risk taking behavior like excessive spending or sexual promiscuity


Common symptoms of depression include:

  • Feeling hopeless, sad, or empty
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Poor memory and planning ability
  • Poor appetite
  • Loss of pleasure or joy


If you suspect that you or a loved one is suffering from a bipolar mood disorder, it’s important to consult a mental health professional. This can be done directly or through your GP, or your nearest Life Mental Health facility. For more information contact Life Mental Health at or visit our website here.

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