Imagine days of the blackest of depression book-ended by days of near euphoria, with the cycle of extreme mood swings taking over and dominating your life, eliminating most hope for a normal, functional existence.
That’s the life of those suffering from bi-polar disorder, also known as manic-depressive disease.
In any given year, 2.6 percent of all adult Americans are plagued by bi-polar disorder, a condition which, on average, takes 10 years to be diagnosed and the right combination of medicine to treat the condition.
According to Generations/ Gaither's Group case manager Julia Boyd, bi-polar is primarily a biological disorder, thought to involve neurotransmitters in the brain, for which there is no test to diagnose. Instead, it is usually diagnosed from its symptoms, with most sufferers going to a medical doctor when in the depressive stage.
“Bi-polar usually emerges in the 20s but we’ve seen it in children as young as 6,” said Boyd. “For a long time it wasn’t believed to affect children, who were often misdiagnosed as suffering from attention deficit disorder (ADD) when they were seen in the manic stage.”
Triggers that can set off bi-polar include stress and social conditions, as well as drug abuse, alcohol, steroids and other stimulants such as cocaine and amphetamines.
“Bi-polar disorder afflicts about 2 million Americans in any given year. It affects men and women equally, with men seen to show the manic phase before diagnosis while women present with the depressive stage,” Boyd noted.
Generations service recipients are the chronically bi-polar, Boyd explained, who have been through multiple hospitalizations and even experienced trouble with the law as a result of actions taken during the disorder’s manic phase.
Bi-polar is treated with medications including mood stabilizers like lithium, as well as talk therapy and directed activities.
“Sadly, bi-polar is with you for life. It can be maintained with meds but not cured. And, unfortunately, there are problems with those leveled out on medicine thinking they are ‘fixed’ and stopping their meds," Boyd said, adding that some with bi-polar even stop their meds because they miss the feeling of the disorder’s manic phase.
Additionally, the disorder can present with some disturbing effects.
“They can have delusions, some psychotic episodes. Some just hear whispering and can’t focus enough to do everyday tasks like cooking. Bi-polar can be rapidly cycling, with sufferers going through as many as two cycles a day, up and down,” Boyd stated.
But help exists, Boyd stressed, with many resources available for those with bi-polar disorder, such as the Tennessee Mental Health Association’s peer groups, as well as support groups for family, friends and loved ones of those with the disease.
While Generations service recipients in the group homes see their disorder and their progress monitored by a treatment team of professionals, Boyd stressed activities are a crucial component of that treatment.
“The group home is not a forever thing,” she said. “To be out and stable and independent, that’s our goal for our service recipients. Activities help get them out of the bi-polar cycling rut. Activities can redirect their manic stage, requiring them to focus, and it’s invaluable in motivating them to get up and motivate during the depressive stage.”
With federal and state funding cuts, those with mental disorders have seen monies for much-needed activities dwindling.
Aiming to replenish those funds, Generations is holding a “Recipients Quality of Life” radio telethon this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Kidd Ford Lincoln. Pledges and donations to the tax-deductible 501(c)3 activities fund can be made during those hours, and entertainment will be provided by three area bands.
Civic organizations wishing to help man the phones are reminded they will get to talk about their organizations and its work on a WCPI live remote during the telethon. For more information, contact James Ramsey at 507-1212.