In the Philippines, people with bipolar disorder (and mental illness in general) are often told things that dismiss their illness.  Bipolar? It’s all in your head. Get over it.  Depressed? Just watch a movie.  Too anxious to leave the house?  Stop being lazy.

Bipolar mood disorder, major depression, and anxiety disorder are all mental illnesses that require medical attention. It’s estimated that 1 in 5 Filipinos have a mental illness. That would be around 20 million Filipinos. So it’s very important to spread correct information about mental health, and to dispel fear, stigma, and discrimination against those who are mentally ill.

Dr. Michael Sionzon, a psychiatrist at ManilaMed, gave an interview at the ManilaMed Health Line over at Facebook Live focusing on bipolar mood disorder and how best it is to handle this illness, whether as patients or as carers of patients.

Major depression vs. bipolar

Dr. Sionzon said it’s important to differentiate between major depression and bipolar disorder.

Major depression causes feelings of sadness, emptiness, and low moods. But there are more symptoms including insomnia (inability to sleep), hypersomnia (sleeping too much), weight loss or weight gain, changes in appetite, irritability that can escalate to anger over mundane things, as well as headaches, body pains, extreme fatigue, and digestive problems.

Bipolar mood disorder has all the features of depression but with one defining difference, it also triggers what’s called “mania” or a manic episode. Bipolar is called by that name–“bi” meaning “two”, and “polar”, referring to poles–because a person with the condition switches from depression (one pole; extreme low mood) to mania (a second pole; extreme high mood).

What is mania?

Mania or a manic episode creates an elevated mood in a person. He or she feels energized, cheerful, on top of the world. Persons with mania may start getting talkative in a louder than normal voice. They may laugh loudly over little things.

Mania also causes feelings of grandiosity. A manic person may feel like he can do everything better than anyone else. He or she may feel god-like, with superpowers. Mania also causes people to become more easily distracted and lose focus. They may multi-task too much, starting different tasks and projects, going from one thing to the other—but in the end many of these would be left unfinished.

Another sign of mania is a decreased need for sleep. A person with mania may only need 2 or 3 hours of sleep a night, but still have the energy to do a lot the next day.

Mania may also cause a someone to engage in reckless behavior with negative or even dangerous consequences. They may engage in pleasurable yet risky behavior, like promiscuous sex that exposes them to diseases. They may become addicted to gambling or drugs.

Serious cases of mania can trigger psychotic episodes where a person has delusions or hallucinations. Delusions are false beliefs (“I am Jesus Christ”) while hallucinations are false sensory perceptions (seeing demons, hearing voices). Like major depression, untreated bipolar mood disorder may also lead to suicide.

Managing bipolar

A diagnosis of either major depression or bipolar mood disorder is best made by a qualified mental health professional: either a psychiatrist or a clinical psychologist. In the Philippines, only psychiatrists are licensed to prescribe medications for bipolar disorder or depression.

Patients with bipolar mood disorder and their carers should seek guidance from their doctor on how to properly manage this illness.  Standard medications for bipolar disorder are called mood stabilizers. Patients with bipolar may also be given anti-depressants or anti-psychotic medicine, if needed.

Mental illness can be treated and managed. Patients who receive proper medical care and social support can become highly functional and prevent potentially fatal consequences. At ManilaMed, we’re here to give you the care you need, and help you #feelbetter. Visit manilamed.com.ph or call (02) 523 8131