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Are my mood swings bipolar?

Could your highs and lows be the result of a mental health issue? Imy Brighty-Potts asks the experts.

Imy Brighty-Potts
Thursday 30 March 2023 08:01 BST
There could be an underlying reason behind your shift in mood (Alamy)
There could be an underlying reason behind your shift in mood (Alamy)

It’s not unusual to experience a shift in mood, but if it seems like you spend your days riding an emotional roller coaster of ups and downs, there could be an underlying reason.

From stress and sleep deprivation to hormonal factors, there is a lot to consider. But could a mental health issue, such as bipolar, be to blame?

What is bipolar?

Bipolar is a “disorder characterised by two or more episodes in which the patient’s mood and activity levels are significantly disturbed. On some occasions this disturbance consists of an elevation of mood – mania, and on others of a lowering of mood and decreased energy and activity – depression,” explains Dr Sai Achuthan, consultant psychiatrist at Cygnet Health Care.

Bipolar is a very serious condition and operates in extremes.

“When experiencing a high mood, or hypomania, patients tend to talk a lot,” says Guy Goodwin, emeritus professor of psychiatry at the University of Oxford.

“They can be extremely active, not sleep much and feel over-confident. If their mood escalates even higher, it becomes mania and they may take risks they wouldn’t normally take. They could even lose touch with reality altogether, feel paranoid and experience hallucinations.

“If someone with bipolar is experiencing a low mood, they can go into a deep depression, where they’re unable to function and may have recurring suicidal thoughts.”

Are mood swings connected?

“Mood swings can be the way some people describe their everyday feeling of being a bit down or happy. However, changes in mood, which may persist over many days and become cyclical, can be the way bipolar disorder starts,” says Goodwin.“Someone without a mood disorder can experience a mood swing, but the symptoms are much less extreme, and they’d be able to carry on living their life as normal. A mood swing for someone with bipolar often disrupts their usual activities,” Goodwin says.

Mood swings that are symptomatic of bipolar may lead you to do dangerous or disruptive things.

People with bipolar often don’t have complete cognitive control when they’re experiencing a mood swing, so they end up doing things they wouldn’t normally do and later regret,” explains Goodwin.

“This behaviour can be extremely disruptive – for example, they might miss work if they’re depressed, or take impulsive ill-judged risks if they’re manic.”

What else could be causing mood swings?

There could be other causes of mood swings including, “sleep deprivation, fluctuating blood sugar, stress, hormonal changes, thyroid concerns and caffeine intake,” says Achuthan.

What should you do about your mood swings?“If someone’s mood swings last for more days or feel more intense than usual and are associated with things such as difficulty concentrating on tasks, intense mood – fluctuating from elated to depressed, impulsivity, or spending excessively,” it may be worth seeking help, suggests Achuthan.

“If mood swings are causing disruption to usual activities and affecting relationships, you need to consult your GP in the first instance. If they think it’s necessary, they will refer you to a psychiatrist,” says Goodwin.

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