Bipolar disorder affects between 1-4% of the population, and is characterised by mood disturbance. Typically the mood disturbance is described as episodes of ‘high’ mood where people can – among other experiences – feel excessively excited and energetic, sleep little, have ‘racing’ thoughts and feel unusually irritable.
The other pole of the mood disturbance is depression or ‘low’ mood where people can experience negative thinking, low energy, feelings of hopelessness and sleep and appetite changes.
Both mood extremes can vary in intensity and the extent to which a person’s function (e.g. ability to work or socialise) is affected.
Treatment of bipolar disorder involves medication that helps prevent mood episodes from occurring, and medication that treats either the ‘high’ or ‘low’ moods. Although medication can be very effective it is not always so, and there is a need to improve treatment.
Research currently undertaken at OHFT, in collaboration with Oxford University Department of Psychiatry, includes developing methods to improve understanding of mood instability of bipolar disorder, using patient self-monitoring with a resource called True Colours, and studies designed to better understand the underlying mechanisms in bipolar disorder. In particular the early effects of current medication such as lithium are being explored which will potentially help the development of new more effective and better tolerated treatments.
Dr Mary-Jane Attenburrow, Senior Clinical Research Fellow, Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford