Story Tools: PRINT | Text Size: S M L XL | REPORT TYPO | SEND YOUR FEEDBACK
Margaret Trudeau

In Depth

Mental Health

Stripping the stigma of bipolar disorder

Last Updated September 4, 2007

Margaret Trudeau understood she risked societal censure when she spoke out about the bipolar disorder that has plagued her for years.

"I suffered tremendous loss because of my reluctance to come forward for help and not recognizing what was happening to me," the former wife of the late prime minister Pierre Trudeau said this month in Ottawa, where she was helping raise awareness for a psychiatric hospital.

More than 40 years after bipolar disorder was first recognized as a distinct form of mental illness, sufferers continue to struggle not only with their symptoms, but with the taboos linked with the condition.

Trudeau said she decided to go public in the hope that it might encourage others suffering from mental illness to seek treatment.

So what is bipolar disorder and what can someone seeking treatment expect?

Bipolar disorder is also known as manic depression. Its symptoms include extreme mood swings. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, a teaching hospital in Toronto, the disorder typically consists of three states:

  • A high state, called "mania."
  • A low state, called "depression."
  • A well state, during which many people feel normal and function well.

Dr. Pierre Blier, a psychiatrist with the Royal Ottawa Hospital where Trudeau made her illness public, said people with the disorder "oscillate between periods of euphoria - with its decreased need to sleep, racing thoughts and risky behaviours - and depression."

Sufferers often liken the illness to a wild emotional roller-coaster ride, alternating between euphoric highs and devastating lows.

When they are manic, they seem to have limitless energy and may do dangerous or unusual things because they feel invincible. When they are depressed, they may have trouble just getting out of bed and feel suicidal.

Blier says there are two distinct types of bipolar disorders - Type 1 and Type 2.

Those with Type 1 often need to be hospitalized because their mood swings are so severe that they can endanger themselves. Type 2 individuals experience milder symptoms.

Pregnant women at risk

Blier estimates bipolar disorder affects about two per cent of the population, plaguing men and women in equal numbers.

Women may begin showing symptoms after pregnancy, as was the case for Trudeau, whose disorder began with post-partum depression following the birth of her second son, Alexandre, in 1973. In this case, symptoms of depression are more common than symptoms of mania.

According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, some people with bipolar disorder may also experience psychotic symptoms such as hearing voices or becoming convinced of things that are not based in reality.

They may also have problems with movement, called catatonic symptoms. This includes "extreme physical agitation or slowness, and odd movements or postures [that] occur in up to 25 per cent of people experiencing episodes of depression or mania."

People with bipolar disorder who have psychotic or catatonic symptoms are sometimes incorrectly diagnosed with schizophrenia, another mental illness.

There is no lab test or brain scan that definitely proves a person has bipolar disorder. Instead, doctors diagnose the illness through a careful screening of a group of symptoms.

Meanwhile, a study published in the September issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, found that the number of American adults diagnosed with bipolar disorder doubled between 1994 and 2003. In children, aged 19 and under, the diagnoses of the disorder soared from 25 cases per 100,000 in 1995 to 1,003 in 2003.

The researchers say bipolar disorder was either historically under-diagnosed in children or adolescents and that problem has been corrected, or it is currently being over-diagnosed in that age category.

The researchers say it's critical that the medical community reaches a consensus regarding diagnostic assessment methods, as many include symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in their criteria for bipolar disorder.

The symptoms of ADHD, which is usually diagnosed in children, include inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity.

Almost two-thirds of young people diagnosed with bipolar disorder were male, while just over two-thirds of the adults diagnosed with it were women.

Seek help late in illness

"Unless patients are totally out of control in their manic phase, most will come to a doctor in a depressive phase," said Blier.

But with a bit of prodding, a doctor familiar with the illness can uncover manic phases that help in making a diagnosis, he said.

No one knows for certain what causes bipolar disorder, but mental health advocates stress that it is not the patient's fault.

"It is not caused by bad parenting, nor is it a consequence of a personality disorder, moral weakness or a fault in character," according to literature from the Mood Disorders Society of Canada, a charitable group that advocates on behalf of those with mood conditions.

Stress or difficult family relationships do not cause the illness, but they can trigger an episode in someone who already has bipolar disorder.

Research suggests genes may play an important role and cause changes in brain chemistry that bring on bipolar disorder.

The Mood Disorders Society estimates people with the illness will see three to four doctors and spend more than eight years seeking treatment before they are accurately diagnosed.

And diagnosis is important, say mental health advocates, because it means doctors can then prescribe treatment, which usually involves a combination of medication and psychotherapy.

Medications even out moods

Drugs typically prescribed for bipolar disorder affect chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters, which transmit messages from one nerve cell to another.

Medications include mood stabilizers such as lithium, lamotrigine and valproic acid. The later two are also anticonvulsants. Anti-psychotic drugs and anti-depressants are also often prescribed.

"The most important point is that we do have a variety of treatments and it is possible to treat patients to full remission, provided they take their medication," said Blier.

But it can be difficult to convince patients to consistently swallow their pills. When they experience a euphoric phase, people can be energetic and productive. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had bipolar disorder, for example.

"They enjoy it. That's when they stop their medication," said Blier, who warns of the risk of sinking back into depression and suicidal thoughts.

Trudeau, who sought treatment after her son Michel died in an avalanche accident in 1998 and after the death of the former prime minister two years later, said treatment has made a huge difference in her life.

"I felt I was broken for a long time, and now I am whole," she said. "I have my life back after years of struggle."

Go to the Top

Story Tools: PRINT | Text Size: S M L XL | REPORT TYPO | SEND YOUR FEEDBACK

World »

Live Roll call vote underway on Day 2 of the Democratic convention video
A glass ceiling is shattering at the Democratic National Convention as Hillary Clinton ascends to the presidential nomination with Tuesday's roll call of the states, making her the first woman to lead a major party into a White House race. The convention's theme today is "Fights of her life."
Analysis Full Olympic ban on Russia never had a chance
In the wake of the latest investigation into widespread, state-sponsored doping by Russian athletes, many figured the IOC had a slam-dunk decision on its hands. But banning an entire country from the Olympics would have been easier said than done.
Attacker who killed French priest had been monitored after planned Syria trip
French President François Hollande is vowing to win his country's war against terrorism after attackers slit a priest's throat in an attack on a Normandy church.
more »

Canada »

OSFI tells some banks to test for sharp drops in Vancouver, Toronto housing markets
Some of Canada's banks must stress test their ability to withstand a 50 per cent drop in housing prices in Metro Vancouver area and a 40 per cent drop in the Greater Toronto Area, the country's banking regulator says.
Elections commissioner sanctions Green Party for peddling 'misleading' polling data
Canada's elections watchdog has sanctioned the Green Party for deliberately pushing "misleading" polling data on the eve of last fall's federal election.
Ottawa police union president calls racism speculation in fatal arrest 'inappropriate' video
As an investigation continues into the death of a Somali-Canadian man arrested by police Sunday, the head of the union representing Ottawa police says suggestions racism could have played a role are "inappropriate."​
more »

Politics »

Live Roll call vote underway on Day 2 of the Democratic convention video
A glass ceiling is shattering at the Democratic National Convention as Hillary Clinton ascends to the presidential nomination with Tuesday's roll call of the states, making her the first woman to lead a major party into a White House race. The convention's theme today is "Fights of her life."
New Gordon Campbell says Brexit makes Canada-EU trade deal a priority video
Canada's outgoing high commissioner to the United Kingdom says last month's Brexit vote was a shot in the arm for the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA), despite unease in some circles about the state of the world economy.
Elections commissioner sanctions Green Party for peddling 'misleading' polling data
Canada's elections watchdog has sanctioned the Green Party for deliberately pushing "misleading" polling data on the eve of last fall's federal election.
more »

Health »

Sorry - we can't find that page
 
CBC.ca

Sorry, we can't find the page you requested.

  1. Please check the URL in the address bar, or ...
  2. Use the navigation links at left to explore our site, or ...
  3. Enter a term in the Quick Search box at top, or ...
  4. Visit our site map page

In a few moments, you will be taken to our site map page, which will help you find what you looking for.

more »

Arts & Entertainment»

TIFF 2016 to open with The Magnificent Seven video
Antoine Fuqua's The Magnificent Seven, a star-studded remake of the 1960s ensemble western, will open the Toronto International Film Festival, part of a first slate of films scheduled for the annual event this fall.
Suicide Squad recreates Belle Reve Penitentiary for Toronto fan experience
As a thank you to Torontonians for putting up with Suicide Squad taking over swaths of the city's core during filming, the anticipated new movie is staging an exclusive event for Toronto fans this week.
Shawshank Redemption oak tree knocked down
A 200-year-old Ohio white oak tree that became a popular attraction for its role in the movie The Shawshank Redemption has fallen, downed during high winds.
more »

Technology & Science »

Cloned animals don't age unusually fast, Dolly the sheep's heirs show
The heirs of Dolly the sheep are enjoying a healthy old age, proving cloned animals can live normal lives and offering reassurance to scientists hoping to use cloned cells in medicine.
Q&A Billboards deliver targeted ads by identifying your car
Advertisers in London, England have developed a new kind of billboard, which changes ads depending on the type of car you drive. Technology columnist Dan Misener looks at what's being called "vehicle recognition technology" — and billboards that look back at you.
How Pokemon Go found success — despite not being a very good game
Pokemon Go has taken the world by storm, with millions setting out this month to become Pokemon trainers — even though by most traditional metrics it isn't a very good video game.
more »

Money »

Apple sells more iPhones than expected in 3rd quarter
Apple Inc sold more iPhones than Wall Street expected in the third quarter and forecast revenue in the current period would top many analysts' targets, soothing fears that demand for Apple's most important product had hit a wall.
Higher education still worth the money, new research suggests
Graduates of Canadian universities and colleges tend to see their salaries rise quickly over time, new research out of the University of Ottawa suggests.
Twitter still struggling to grow as rivals race ahead
Twitter is in danger of becoming the next internet company forced into a desperation sale if it cannot find a way to start luring people and advertisers back to its sometimes-befuddling messaging service.
more »

Consumer Life »

Sorry - we can't find that page
 
CBC.ca

Sorry, we can't find the page you requested.

  1. Please check the URL in the address bar, or ...
  2. Use the navigation links at left to explore our site, or ...
  3. Enter a term in the Quick Search box at top, or ...
  4. Visit our site map page

In a few moments, you will be taken to our site map page, which will help you find what you looking for.

more »

Sports »

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Analysis Full Olympic ban on Russia never had a chance
In the wake of the latest investigation into widespread, state-sponsored doping by Russian athletes, many figured the IOC had a slam-dunk decision on its hands. But banning an entire country from the Olympics would have been easier said than done.
Rio 2016: Team Canada by the numbers
The Canadian Olympic Committee announced the 313 athletes that will represent Canada at Rio 2016. CBC Sports breaks down some of the numbers.
Team Canada sending 313 athletes to Rio Olympics
The Canadian Olympic Committee has announced Canada's full 313-athlete team for the Rio Olympics. The large Canadian contingent is made up of 187 women and 126 men, ranging in age from 16 to 56.
more »

Diversions »

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
more »