World Bipolar Day: Why is it celebrated on Vincent Van Gogh's birthday?

A condition characterised by severe mood swings ranging from emotional highs to depressive lows, bipolar disorder has three types. Photo: Shutterstock/Stoniko/AtlasStudio

The year was 1888. The world-renowned Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh was in Arles, France in December and was on an immensely creative and productive streak in his career. Meanwhile, the 35-year-old invited another artist Paul Gauguin to join him to form an artists' community. An intrigued Gauguin was excited to collaborate with a gifted Van Gogh, but while working together, they ran into disagreements often. Slowly, Van Gogh started experiencing severe mood swings too and during one of their heated arguments on December 23, Van Gogh cut off a portion of his ear with a razor! 

He was hospitalised and received psychiatric care alongside the treatment for his injury. Interestingly, that was just one of his psychiatric episodes during his lifetime. Historians have found much evidence of similar behaviours in his works, letters and other writings, posthumously concluding that his symptoms were consistent with bipolar disorder.

What is bipolar disorder?
A condition characterised by severe mood swings ranging from emotional highs to depressive lows, bipolar disorder has three types - Bipolar I Disorder which lasts 7 days or more, Bipolar II Disorder which is less severe and Cyclothymic Disorder which lasts for at least 2 years. Experts say that Van Gogh, whose birthday (March 30) is chosen as World Bipolar Day, had symptoms of both Bipolar I and Cyclothymic Disorder from time to time. 

What causes the disorder?
While its causes aren't clearly understood, some experts say it can be due to a combination of environmental, genetic and biological factors. In the case of Van Gogh, for instance, he had a history of mental health issues in his family, especially on his mother's side. However, any diagnosis for the disorder should be done case-to-case only.

How is bipolar disorder treated?
Psychotherapy, lifestyle modifications and medication are prescribed together, depending on the specific condition of the individual, to treat bipolar disorder. What works for one person would not work for another and many people with the condition are leading fulfilling lives after getting proper treatment and with the support of dear and near ones.

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