Short film casts light on bipolar disorder

Doctors urge early diagnosis for those who suffer extreme mood swings, as institutes launch short movie to raise public awareness

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 July, 2014, 5:56am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 July, 2014, 8:26am

People affected by extreme mood swings or sudden out-of-character behaviour could be suffering from bipolar affective disorder, doctors warned yesterday as they launched a short film to raise awareness of the condition.

The disorder, which is also known as manic depression, affects one in 20 people in Hong Kong, but many have successful careers, said Institute of Brain Medicine director Professor Tang Siu-wa.

Tang said the condition tended to make sufferers more sensitive to their surroundings and more creative, and could actually help some people - including artists, writers and actors - with their work. He named artist Vincent van Gogh and English crime novelist Agatha Christie as examples.

Tang said patients should seek diagnosis and treatment to avoid deterioration of their condition, which could drive them to extreme, erratic behaviour and affect their lives.

To raise public awareness on the condition, Tang's institute and the Society for Advancement of Bipolar Affective Disorder yesterday launched a short film, entitled You Are Not Alone.

The film - which stars local actress Maggie Cheung Ho-yee and actors David Chiang Da-wei and Samuel Kwok Fung - is about a woman who is affected by her mood swings because of the disorder, and her journey towards overcoming them with the help of her family and friends.

Society president Dr Michael Wong Ming-cheuk said symptoms often surfaced between the ages of 15 and 25. But it usually took years before patients sought medical help because their "tough" characters and career success helped disguise the symptoms.

In one case, a successful trader got married after a whirlwind romance with a woman he had known for only three weeks. But some time later, he became broody and quarrelsome, which led to their divorce. A year later, the man remarried after another whirlwind romance and transferred most of his assets to the new wife. But within six months, he became depressed and suicidal. He was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder after his family took him to a doctor.

Another successful businessman who used to be very easygoing suddenly became a workaholic, working into the wee hours and sleeping only a few hours a day. He was also eventually diagnosed with the disorder.

Dr David Wong Tai-wai, the institute's honorary secretary, said social taboos about the disorder had delayed many patients' diagnosis and treatment.

The Hospital Authority's website states that the exact cause of the disorder is unknown, but may be linked to heredity, brain structure, abnormal secretions of brain neurotransmitters, or other factors such as stress, drug abuse or trauma.

Medication and psychological therapy can help stabilise patients' emotions. Doctors may prescribe multiple medications with different dosages as patients' mood swings vary, the authority's website said.