Bipolar disorder is a serious mental health condition in which some individuals experience alternating periods of high energy levels and extremely low mood. People with bipolar disorder may find the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdown to be particularly challenging to manage.
There are different types of the condition, but most people will experience two different mental states of bipolar disorder: manic and depressive. The duration of these mental states and how rapidly they switch back and forth vary depending on the specific form of bipolar disorder.
Some people may not experience switches between opposite moods, whereas others can swing from spending money wildly and starting numerous new projects and activities to not being able to get out of bed and considering suicide.
In about 82.9% of people with diagnosed bipolar disorder, the condition periodically causes “significant impairment” to their lives and decision making. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, roughly 2.8% of adults in the United States experience bipolar disorder each year, and 4.4% have it at some point in their lives.
The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown have caused huge social and economic disruption. People with bipolar disorder, and those who care for and about them, face unique challenges in this unprecedented time. Keep reading to learn more about how these two factors may affect each other and how to cope.
The COVID-19 pandemic presents people with bipolar disorder, as well as their friends, family, and care providers, with additional problems and issues. These result from the following factors:
- Regularity and structure are very important for people with bipolar disorder, and they may be hard to come by during a time of such disruption.
- Consistent treatment is vital for people with bipolar disorder, but isolation and quarantine might interfere with regular appointments and getting medications in a timely manner.
- Social isolation distances people with bipolar disorder from their support networks.
- Fear of illness and concerns about the health of loved ones can increase agitation.
- Loss of life on a mass scale and grief for the disappearance of a way of life can seem overwhelming to someone in a depressive episode of bipolar.
- Being in isolation or under quarantine can be extremely difficult for people experiencing mania or hypomanic episodes.
However, people can take steps to manage these issues.
The following coping strategies can help people with bipolar disorder proactively navigate the potential problems of COVID-19 and lockdown:
- acknowledging that these are stressful times during which it is understandable to feel concerned
- appreciating that the goal is to be able to manage feelings as they manifest
- establishing a schedule for work, relaxation, and connecting with friends and family, while maintaining the correct physical distancing measures
- eating regular, healthful meals
- establishing and following good sleep habits
- spending some time outside each day
- staying physically active by walking, running, biking, or using free online exercise options
- trying to move therapy sessions online — virtual therapy is a great option for those without access to their usual sessions
- working with a pharmacy to arrange delivery of medication
- doing various relaxing and engaging activities, from cooking to reading to doing crossword puzzles
Bipolar disorder is generally a chronic condition, meaning that there is no cure. However, it is possible to manage the condition and lead a full and productive life. The key is to find the right combination of treatments and remedies, including medications and healthful lifestyle measures, and to stick with them. It may take some time to accomplish this, so friends and family should be patient and remain supportive.
Medications that doctors use to treat bipolar disorder include:
- mood stabilizers
- anti-anxiety drugs
- sleep aids
In combination with medication, talk therapy can help prevent relapses and improve the overall quality of life for people with bipolar disorder. During the COVID-19 outbreak, many therapists are offering online treatment options.
- following a healthful diet
- getting adequate exercise
- strengthening positive self-motivation
If friends and family are voicing concerns about a person’s mental health, it is a good idea to speak with a mental healthcare professional. Doing this is particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic, when it may be even more important to keep potential physical and mental health problems from getting out of control.
Before seeking help, it is useful to know as much as possible about an individual’s physical and mental health history. This information can help guide treatment.
Research shows that the children of people with bipolar disorder are at higher risk of developing the condition or other mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, or substance abuse.
It is time to seek help if a person exhibits any of the following signs of a manic episode, and they last for a few days or more:
- talking a lot more than normal in an unusually excited way
- not being able to sleep, or thinking that sleep is unnecessary
- racing thoughts
- overconfidence and euphoria
- behaving impulsively and recklessly
Similarly, if an individual exhibits any of the following signs of a depressive episode for a few days or more, it is time to seek help:
- feelings of hopelessness and despair
- lack of interest in things that they previously enjoyed
- an inability to focus their thoughts or concentrate
- changes in sleeping, eating, or bathing habits
- feelings of worthlessness
If a person is having thoughts of suicide, it is important that they get immediate help.
If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:
- Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
- Listen to the person without judgment.
- Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
- Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
- Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours per day at 800-273-8255. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can call 800-799-4889.
Bipolar disorder is a serious mental health condition that can cause people to cycle back and forth between periods of hyper excitement and depression. Some individuals will experience manic episodes with no depressive periods.
Bipolar disorder can have a devastating impact on people’s lives, but it is possible to manage it with medication, therapy, and a healthful lifestyle.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, people with bipolar disorder need to make special efforts to keep up their treatment and maintain a schedule that supports their health.