Expert advice

Paul Morgan: mental health advisor

Paul Morgan is Deputy Director of SANE Australia, the mental health charity. He is a leading expert in promoting understanding of mental illness in the community. ASK ME A QUESTION

Could I have bipolar?

Friday, April 23, 2010
"Only a doctor can diagnose a mental illness such as bipolar disorder."

Question:

I have for years suffered with a condition my doctor referred to a chemical imbalance in the brain. I was taking medication for it a few years ago but stopped. While on the medication I was constantly sleepy so I stopped. I also stopped because I was pregnant.

The only thing is I still suffer from very bad mood swings. I can go from good mood into a rage with the click of the fingers, for no reason. I was referred to a mental health expert who said I didn't have a problem.

I know I have a problem and it is to the point where it has broken down my marriage. My mood swings are worse than ever before and even when I tell myself to stop, I can't.

What can be wrong with me? My sister has told everyone I have bipolar and now my husband is saying I have a mental health problem too. Please help me. I hate my kids seeing me like this.

Answer:

You've made a very important first step by recognising that you need help with how your mood changes are affecting you and your relationships with others.

People with bipolar disorder can become "high", overexcited and reckless, or imagine that they are more important or influential than they are in real life. They can also become extremely low, feeling helpless and depressed, with difficulty making decisions or concentrating.

Some people mainly experience highs. Some experience mainly lows, and some experience both extremes — becoming profoundly depressed or overexcited. The person may then behave in an uncharacteristically irrational or risky manner.

Only a doctor can diagnose a mental illness such as bipolar disorder, however. Diagnosis of mental health problems is a highly complex and skilled area, and needs the medical expertise of doctor to establish and then prescribe the most helpful treatment.

If you experience sudden rages of other emotions for no reason, then there may be a whole range of reasons this is happening — both psychological or related to your physical health.

While others may be trying to be helpful by giving names to what you are experiencing, the only truly helpful thing to do is to make an appointment to see a GP and to give as much information as possible, so that they can make a diagnosis, prescribe treatment and refer you to a specialist if needed.

Make sure you request a longer appointment, and make some notes to take along. For example, note how long your moods last, if anything seems to trigger them, and so on.

You can also visit www.sane.org or call 1800 18 SANE (7263) for information and advice on a range of mental health problems and how to manage them. The most important thing, however, is to make that appointment with a doctor. Why not promise yourself to do it today


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