What is bipolar disorder as Kim K talks about Kanye West's mental health?

Kim Kardashian has opened up about her husband Kanye West’s behaviour, acknowledging that he is having a bipolar episode in a lengthy Instagram Stories post.

The reality star had previously remained quiet during the rapper’s presidential campaign launch, during which he has claimed that Kim considered an abortion while pregnant with North, as well as suggesting he has been trying to divorce her.

Saying that the family was ‘powerless’ to help, Kim wrote: ‘I understand Kanye is subject to criticism because he is a public figure and his actions at times can cause strong opinions and emotions. He is a brilliant but complicated person who on top of the pressure being being an artist and a black man, who experienced the painful loss of his mother, and has to deal with the pressure and isolation that is heightened by his bipolar disorder.

‘Those who are close with Kanye know his heart and understand his words some times do not align with his intentions.

‘Living with bipolar disorder does not diminish or invalidate his dreams and his creative ideas, no matter how big or unobtainable they may feel to some. That is part of his genius and as we have all witnessed, many of his dreams have come true.’

Kanye has previously opened up about his bipolar diagnosis, having spoken about it in an interview with David Letterman in 2019 – but just what is the condition?

What is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder – previously known as manic depression – is a mental health condition which causes extreme mood swings.

People with bipolar disorder can experience manic phases, during which it’s very common to feel very happy, have lots of energy, plans and ambitious ideas, while behaviour can also include spending lots of money on things you cannot afford and would not normally want, or indulging in other impulsive behaviour such as making unwise business decisions, having casual sex or abusing drugs or alcohol.

It’s also common to talk very quickly during this period, not feel like eating or sleeping and become easily agitated – but sufferers may also experience periods of psychosis, where they see or hear things that are not there or become convinced that things are true when they are not.

The depression phase of the disorder can leave sufferers feeling very low and lethargic, with feelings of worthlessness and, in some cases, suicidal thoughts.

The exact cause of bipolar disorder is not known, but it’s thought extreme stress, overwhelming problems and life-changing events can all trigger an episode, as well as genetic and chemical factors.

There are also different types of bipolar disorder – known as Type I and Type II.

Bipolar Type I means that you have had at least one episode of mania which lasts for more than one week, while the majority of people will also have had periods of depression.

Manic episodes can last for 3-6 months if left untreated while depression can last for 6-12 months without treatment.

With Bipolar Type II depressive symptoms are common – those with this type are likely to have had at least one period of major depression and one period of hypomania, a milder form of mania.

There can be variations on these different forms of the disorder – with ‘mixed features’, meaning that mania and depressive episodes are happening at the same time, or ‘rapid cycling’, referring to a person having four or more episodes in the space of 12 months.

Bipolar disorder can also be affected by seasons, with manic or depressive episodes following a pattern depending on the time of year.

It can occur at any age, although often develops between the ages of 15 and 19 and rarely develops after the age of 40 – and the pattern of mood swings varies widely, with some people having frequent episodes while others have occasional episodes punctuated by long periods of stability.

How is bipolar disorder treated?

If you think you may have bipolar disorder, your first step should be to see your GP, who can refer to you a psychiatrist for a formal diagnosis.

Your doctor may arrange an appointment with the community mental health team if you have had period of depression, as well as periods of feeling very upbeat and not in control of your behaviour for at least four days in a row.

Most people who have bipolar disorder have a combination of treatments, including mood-stabilising medication – lithium is commonly diagnosed – as well as antipsychotic and anticonvulsant medication.

They might also be prescribed medication to prevent episodes when they happen, while other treatment can include talking therapies such as CBT, as well as learning to recognise the signs before an episode occurs – allowing you to get help in time.

Changes in lifestyle, such as improving diet, getting enough sleep and taking regular exercise can also help.

Most people with bipolar disorder can have treatment without having to go to hospital, but if someone’s symptoms are severe or there is a concern they may harm themselves or others then hospital treatment may be required.

If you are experiencing severe depression you should contact your GP or mental health crisis team as soon as you can and if you are having thoughts of self-harm or suicide you should go to your nearest A&E department as soon as possible.

For more information you can check the Bipolar UK website as well as the NHS website’s information on Bipolar Disorder.

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