Bipolar disorder is characterised by extreme changes in mood, with alternating periods of extreme happiness (mania) and extreme sadness (depression).
Causes of bipolar disorder
- Bipolar disorder may have a genetic link, it seems to run in families.
- There may be a physical cause related to brain systems that control mood.
- Stress can trigger an episode.
- Bipolar disorder generally starts between the ages of 15 to 19.
Symptoms of bipolar disorder
- Symptoms fall under two categories, mania and depression.
- Manic symptoms include: not sleeping, being over active, talking very quickly, jumping from one idea to another, feeling more important than usual and being unaware of how unwell they are.
- Depressive symptoms include, negative thoughts, being unable to make decisions, loss of confidence, agitation and restlessness and being unable to concentrate.
- Sufferers can also have psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations and feelings of exaggerated self-worth, or no self-worth.
Treatment of bipolar disorder
- Medication is used to treat manic and depressive symptoms. The most common medications are anti-depressants and lithium. Anti -psychotic medication is used for treating manic episodes.
- Talking therapies such as CBT may also be prescribed for helping with manic and depressive moods.
- Psycho - education for the student and their family is important to help them understand the condition and recognise symptoms, so that treatment can be sought quickly.
Returning to school
- If students are admitted to a specialist unit or hospital following an acute episode then liaise with the family and the hospital teaching team to plan for their return to school.
- Attend a discharge planning meeting or arrange a meeting at school, with input from the medical team, to plan the student’s return to school.
- Complete an individual healthcare plan.
- Discuss medication side effects.
- Discuss with the student what they want staff and fellow students to know about their absence and condition.
- Ensure the SENCO and Form Tutor understands what bipolar disorder is and how it might affect the student. Reliable and accurate information is vital.
Managing school work
- For some students the onset of bipolar disorder may change what they are able to achieve academically. This may be distressing for the student and family.
- Discuss the option of deferment of exams if the student falls ill during years 11 and 13.
- Help the student with organisational skills, as well as catching up with academic work.
- Be flexible about homework and deadlines during periods when a student may not be sleeping well or able to concentrate.
- If possible record or provide lesson notes for when a student may have difficulty concentrating in lessons.
- Supportively discuss course options if it becomes clear the student is not managing.
- Help the student manage their workload to help reduce a build-up of stress.
- Check in regularly and allow the student time to discuss their concerns.
- Consider allocating a learning mentor after discussing support needs with the student and family.
- Contact parents/carers if a change in behaviour is observed, for example, appearing low in mood or elated.
- Allow a student to start school a little later if they are having trouble sleeping.
- Agree a plan for when a student feels agitated and unsettled. This might be access to an agreed room with a supportive staff member.
- Arrange access to drinking water and use of toilet.
Bipolar Disorder: Information for Young People
Comprehensive information about Bipolar Disorder produced by the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
A national charity committed to supporting individuals with bipolar disorder by providing information and support to sufferers and their families.
Young Minds is a UK charity committed to improving the mental health and emotional well-being of all children and young people.