Can bipolar mood swings sometimes be a good thing?

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All of us experience mood swings to some extent, you know, one minute you’re feeling quite happy and the next you’re down in the dumps. However, bipolar disorder is diagnosed when mood swings are significant and severe enough to interfere with an individual’s ability to function effectively on a day to day basis.


Treatment of bipolar disorder (sometimes referred to as manic depression) will usually involve some sort of anti depressant or anti psychotic medication.


Now a new report from the British Psychological Society authored by Professor Steven Jones of Lancaster University and a number of other leading psychologists who worked in partnership with service users, has suggested that mood swings are not always a bad thing and medication may not be the only answer.


According to the review, extreme mood swings can have their problems but they often bring significant benefits too, for example, many people who experience wide variations in mood are often creative and highly successful individuals – think of actor Stephen Fry, actress Carrie Fisher, television presenters Gail Porter and Bill Oddie, government press adviser Alistair Campbell and comedian Paul Merton as just a few examples.


The report also suggests that the  mood swings associated with bipolar are more extreme forms of the variations we all experience and can result from life events rather than just brain chemistry and it’s not always helpful to think of extreme mood swings as an illness.


It’s true that during ‘highs’ there can be a tendency for people with bipolar to believe they are capable of extraordinary things and all too often they are encouraged by health professionals to lower their expectations of what they can realistically achieve.


The report suggests that although medication may be helpful in some cases, it may not be the answer for everyone and that some people are able to manage their moods by changing their lifestyle and perhaps undergoing some form of psychotherapy.


One of the authors, Joanne Hemmingfield, a service user herself, said the report offered a “message of hope” to people with bipolar disorder “which is in stark contrast to the messages most people have received in the past”.


According to Clare Dolman, Chair of MDF the Bipolar Organisation, the report highlights the positive aspects of living with bipolar as well as the negative and “paints a more hopeful picture of the path to recovery by combining psychological approaches with medication where necessary”.



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