Mood swings are not always best understood as an illness called 'bipolar disorder', and medication is not the only way to cope with them, says a British Psychological Society report. The report, Understanding Bipolar Disorder, which the Society has made available as a free download throughout the month of July, gives new hope to people diagnosed with bipolar disorder (about 1 to 2 percent of the population).
This in-depth review of recent research was authored by Professor Steven Jones of Lancaster University and a team of leading clinical psychologists, working in partnership with service users. It suggests that a tendency to extreme moods can have significant benefits as well as sometimes leading to problems.
Many people who have been reported as having the diagnosis are also extremely creative and successful individuals. Examples include government press advisor Alistair Campbell, actress Carrie Fisher, actor Stephen Fry, comedian Paul Merton, and television presenters Gail Porter and Bill Oddie.
The report also suggests that these mood swings are more extreme forms of the variations we all experience and can result from life events rather than just brain chemistry. It is not always helpful to think of this as an 'illness', and doctors and other health workers may sometimes give unhelpfully negative messages about what the diagnosis means, for example encouraging people to lower their expectations of what they can achieve in life.
The report also suggests that although medication can be helpful for some people, it does not help everyone. Some people prefer instead to think of themselves simply as someone who tends to experience more extreme lows and highs than others, and to manage this by adapting their lifestyle or using psychological therapy.
The report argues that clinical services need to recognise the expertise of service users and work with them towards their own individual goals. One of the authors, Joanne Hemmingfield, said: "As a service user myself I believe that this report provides a message of hope for people with bipolar disorder which is in stark contrast to the messages most people have received in the past."
Clare Dolman, Chair of MDF the Bipolar Organisation, said: "As the national bipolar charity, we welcome this report by some of the UK's most distinguished psychologists, led by Professor Steve Jones of the Spectrum Centre. It is very encouraging that 'Understanding Bipolar Disorder' highlights the potential positive aspects of living with the condition as well as the negative, and paints a more hopeful picture of the path to recovery by combining psychological approaches with medication where necessary.
"The report offers a clear and accessible account of the psychological perspective and we would recommend anyone interested in gaining a more comprehensive understanding of the condition to read it."
Understanding Bipolar Disorder can be downloaded from the BPS Shop: http://www.bpsshop.org.uk/Understanding-Bipolar-Disorder-P1280.aspx. To download it you must register with the site first, but the download is free after you have done so.
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