Photo: Mariah Carey/Instagram and Lee Joon Fan Page/Facebook 

Mental illnesses like bipolar disorder is a pretty touchy subject to talk about, so thankfully, more celebrities are shining a spotlight on it in an attempt to raise awareness about the disorder and decrease the stigma surrounding an issue that affects many.

According to Singhealth, bipolar affects 1 per cent of adults in Singapore aged between 20 to 40.  So, when public figures like singer Mariah Carey and K-pop idol Lee Joon speak publicly about mental illness and bipolar, it sends a powerful message to people around the globe who are facing this debilitating condition or have encountered it at some point in time.

In a recent interview for People Magazine, one of the most successful singers of all time, Mariah Carey opened up about her struggle with bipolar disorder. The singer who is currently in therapy and taking medication for bipolar II disorder was first diagnosed in 2001 but hesitated to seek treatment because she was “in denial and in constant fear that someone would expose me (her)”. She eventually caved in and sought treatment because “it was too much of a burden to carry” and she “simply couldn’t do that anymore”.


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Mariah is certainly not the only celebrity to open up about the condition. In 2010, South Korean idol from the band MBLAQ, Lee Joon, made headlines when he revealed that he suffers from both insomnia and a severe bipolar disorder. In the same interview with the Korean media, he shared that the mental and physical stress induced by his busy schedule and inability to sleep was what triggered his bipolar disorder.  

Their message is loud and clear – mental illness is a condition that can affect anyone and everyone – and there’s no shame in admitting to it and more importantly getting treated for it.  Here’s what you need to know about bipolar disorder.


What is bipolar disorder?

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While it’s normal for one’s mood to vary from day to day, frequent and extreme mood swings can signal a bigger problem. Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder. The term “bipolar” refers to two extremes of mood – depressed (“low”) and maniac (“high”). They may feel overly elated and hyper energetic (that is not in keeping with their usual self) one day, and sad and hopeless the next, without any external circumstances to explain the change. The frequency of these episodes of extreme mood swings can vary from several times a day to once every few months or years.

Like with most mental illnesses, there are varying severities of this disorder. In severe cases, the person may become more agitated than usual. The disorder has a high social impact. According to the Centre For Psychological Wellness, patients with bipolar disorders may end up losing their jobs and dissolving their marriages. It has also been found that sufferers could take to excessive drinking of alcohol as a result of the illness.


What causes bipolar disorder?

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There is no single cause of bipolar. The risk of bipolar disorder is higher if a parent or sibling has the disorder. Chemical disruptions in the brain like dysfunction in neurotransmitters such as noradrenaline, serotonin and dopamine are also possible causes of bipolar disorder. Imaging studies show that there are structural and functional changes in the brains of people diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

How do you know if you have bipolar disorder?

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For a person to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, he has to have at least one maniac or hypomaniac (less severe form of maniac episode). People with bipolar disorder may experience distinct maniac and depressive episodes or a mix of both maniac and depressive symptoms.

Maniac – is an emotional state characterised by intense feelings of elation and excitement. Some people can become hyperactive, chatty and restless. Others will engage in risky and impulsive behaviour. Other symptoms include difficulty in concentrating, irritability and insomnia.

Depression – can vary in intensity (mild, moderate or severe). The person may feel upset, hopeless, empty, restless and lose interest in activities he previously enjoyed. A person suffering from depression may also experience fatigue, have difficulty concentrating or harbour suicidal thoughts.


Is there a cure for bipolar disorder?

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Unfortunately, there is no cure for bipolar disorder. That said, it can be treated effectively over the long-term. Proper treatment can help those diagnosed with bipolar disorder to gain better control of their mood swings and other related symptoms.

The management of the mental illness encompasses an attention to lifestyle, stress management, supports and also medication options like mood stabilisers, atypical antipsychotics, and antidepressants. When accompanied with medication, psychotherapy can be an effective treatment option for bipolar disorder.

It is also equally important to educate patients and their family to let them understand the nature of the illness. Patients tend to have a similar pattern (e.g. onset of insomnia) prior to the relapse and this is known as the relapse signature. Patient and family members can be taught to keep a lookout for such signs and to seek help as soon as possible to prevent a full blown episode. Besides education, other forms of therapy like cognitive behavioural therapy and interpersonal social rhythm therapy can also be very helpful for patients with bipolar disorder and their family members.


Light at the end of the tunnel

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Bipolar is a severe mental condition, but that doesn’t mean that people can’t live long and fulfilling lives with it. Along with medication, if you are diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it is important to monitor your moods, manage your lifestyle and make sure you have plenty of outlets to talk about your problems. Remember, you are not alone.

If you think you may have the symptoms of bipolar disorder or want to find out more, you can visit sites like Singhealth and the Institute of Mental Health.

The above medical information is from the Singhealth , Institute of Mental Health, Singapore Psychiatric Association and Centre For Psychological Wellness.