October 16, 2009

Initial onset of Bipolar during College years

This recent article http://healthnews.uc.edu/news/?/9324 caught my attention. It discusses the notion that depression in young college students can begin to manifest itself just weeks after school starts; at that time, the "the honeymoon period" is over and the ongoing stress of pursuing academic performance kicks in. Bipolar patients often experience a first depression during college. The first onset of a manic or depressed mood characteristic of bipolar disorder usually occurs during the late teens and early 20's; at least half of all cases start before age 25*

Attending college offers numerous triggers to set off a bad mood. The difference between typical students and those who may be bipolar, is how they handle the stress of academic and/or peer pressure which manifests itself during the college years. There is a big difference between "being down" because of the academic work load and going into a depressed mode which doesn't lift for a period of time. If a bipolar patient is experiencing a depressed mood for the first time, it is extremely difficult to diagnose. Many if not most students will simply write it off as a manifestation of college pressure.

However, if there are telltale signs of depression: undue pessimism, loss of pleasure, loss of appetite, altered sleep patterns, unusual irritability, suicidal thoughts etc. these are likely to indicate something more than a "bad mood."

In my own experience, I had a difficult semester mid-way through college which, in retrospect, was my first bout with depression. At the time, I lacked tools or knowledge to address the depressed mode. However, now, after numerous years of life experience including several significant bouts of mania and depression, I'm much better equipped to manage my bipolar condition.

If a student has several of the telltale signs of depression listed above, they ought to quickly arrange to see a mental health professional to assess how to treat the condition. It's also incumbent upon parents or siblings to listen carefully to a possible patient's change in mood. Often times, a close family member or friend will be able to spot a manic or depressed mood better than the prospective patient. As uncomfortable as it may be for a family member or friend to suggest the possibility of bipolar or unipolar depression, they are offering the gift of insight to their loved one.

That insight could very well save the patient's life. Depression and Bipolar Disorder are serious diagnoses but are entirely treatable. We life in an era where there is much more information available on these disorders and less stigma attached to them. Increasingly, students and the general public accept the following statement, "Bipolar Disorder or Unipolar disorder are illnesses, like diabetes, with which people are born. They do not represent a "weakness" or "lack of willpower" any more than diabetes, or Parkinson's or any other serious illness represents a patient's lack of will power."

*Cited from NIHM website: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/bipolar-disorder/complete-index.shtml#pub1


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