Column: Bipolar disorder in the spotlight

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The vision of World Bipolar Day (WBD) – which takes place tomorrow (Friday) – is to bring world awareness to bipolar disorders and to eliminate social stigma.

Through international collaboration, World Bipolar Day tries to bring the world population information about bipolar disorders that will educate and improve sensitivity towards the illness.

The day is celebrated each year on March 30, the birthday of renowned artist Vincent Van Gogh, who was posthumously diagnosed as probably having bipolar disorder.

Each of the founding organisations, which include the International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF) and the International Society for Bipolar Disorders (ISBD), is encouraging their members, chapters, and affiliates to orchestrate local events surrounding WBD.

Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. It typically develops in late adolescence or early adulthood, however, some people have their first symptoms during childhood, while some develop them late in life.

Symptoms of bipolar disorder are severe and different from the normal ups and downs everyone goes through from time to time. The periods of highs and lows are called episodes of mania and depression.

A mild to moderate level of mania is called hypomania, which may feel good to the person who experiences it and may even be associated with good functioning and enhanced productivity. Thus even when family and friends learn to recognize the mood swings as possible bipolar disorder, the person may deny that anything is wrong.

Without proper treatment, however, hypomania can become severe mania in some people or can switch into depression.

It is estimated the global prevalence of bipolar disorder is between one and two per cent of the population and has been said to be as high as five per cent.

According to the World Health Organisation, it is the sixth leading case of disability in the world.

It can result in damaged relationships, poor job or school performance and even suicide. But there is good news – bipolar disorder can be treated and people with this illness can lead full and productive lives.

However, in order to address this global problem, we need a global solution.

With support from leading experts from around the world, groups like IBPF and ISBD are supporting efforts to investigate biological causes, targets for drug treatment, better treatments, better methods of diagnosis, the genetic components of the illness, and the strategies for living well with bipolar disorder.

This is just the beginning – collaborations between research and advocacy groups are continuing to grow, and WBD is a tribute to the success of this strategy.

Some of the activities include arranging for a speaker or representative to come to your workplace, child’s school or other location to give a talk or presentation on bipolar disorder.

People can also like and follow WBD on Facebook and share a message of hope, or tweet about WBD using the Twitter handle @WorldBipolarDay.

Visit www.worldbipolarday.org for more information and to register their events.