What is Bipolar Disorder?

bipolarBipolar disorder (also known as manic-depressive illness or manic depression) is a brain disorder that causes unusual and dramatic shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. Unlike the low and stable moods of depression, the highs (mania) and lows (depression) of bipolar disorder can swing from one extreme to another over a short period—a matter of days or even hours. Depressive and manic episodes can last up to several weeks, even months. 

Bipolar disorder can occur at any age but most often develops between the ages of 15 and 19 and rarely develops after age 40.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder


While some people with bipolar disorder describe the mania phase as being ‘good’ or ‘helpful’ because they feel happy and productive, this can also be a self-destructive or destabilising time. 

Symptoms of mania Include:
  • feelings of euphoria
  • difficulty staying focused
  • being easily distracted
  • agitation or irritability
  • hyperactivity, excessive energy
  • speaking very fast
  • psychosis
  • inflated self-esteem/grandiosity
  • aggressive behaviour
  • decreased need for sleep
  • engaging in risky behaviour such as promiscuity or substance misuse
  • impulsive behaviours (spending money they don’t have)
What Triggers a Manic Episode?
  • Lack of sleep
  • High levels of stress
  • Over stimulating environment
  • Alcohol and using substance misuse
  • A significant life event such as divorce, loss of job, or marriage

Hypo Mania

Hypomania is a less severe form of mania. Someone with hypomania may experience the same or similar symptoms of mania, but they are milder than mania symptoms.

What is the Difference between Hypomania and Mania?


  • a mood state
  • severe symptoms
  • symptoms last for least a week
  • causes significant functioning impairment


  • a form of mania
  • symptoms are milder
  • symptoms last between four days and one week
  • no functioning impairment


  • changes to appetite
  • sleeping too much or insomnia
  • feelings of worthlessness
  • lack of motivation
  • impending sense of gloom
  • fatigue
  •  psychosis
  • feeling sad, empty, and/or hopelessness
  • loss of interest in activities 
  • lack of concentration
  • indecisiveness
  • weight gain or loss of appetite
  • suicidal thoughts/feelings


Some people with bipolar disorder will experience psychosis in either or both mania or depression states. This can be scary for people with psychosis and those around them, such as family and friends. Psychosis can happen at any stage of bipolar disorder, but not everyone will experience it.

Symptoms of psychosis may include:

Delusion -believing something to be real/true when it is not. A person may believe that he/she has superpowers or be invincible. Grandiose delusion is common during a manic episode. 

Fear and paranoia – someone may believe that something or someone is out to hurt them.

Hallucination -a person sees, hears and/or smells things that are not real but believes them to be.

Lack of awareness – a person is unable to recognise that their behaviour is inconsistent with what is going on around them. They may not notice that other people are not experiencing their delusions or hallucinations.

Incoherent, Irrational, or jumbled thoughts and speech -people may talk extremely fast with rapid changes to subjects. They may also forget what they are talking about. 

Mixed States

This is when a person experiences both depression and mania or hypomania at the same time or one very quickly after another. 

Euthymic mood

The euthymic mood is the time when a person with bipolar is in between depression, hypomania, and mania episodes. They may not be complete without symptoms, but they will be below a diagnosable mood threshold. 

Cause of Bipolar

The exact cause of bipolar disorder is unknown. However, some factors that may contribute include a family history of the illness (especially among first-degree relatives like parents, siblings, and children), traumatic experiences during childhood or adolescence, other mental health conditions, environmental factors, and changes in brain structure or function.


If you think that you may have bipolar disorder, it is important that you visit your GP as soon as possible. If a GP suspects that you have bipolar disorder, they will make a referral to a psychiatrist who will conduct a thorough assessment. This will usually involve asking you questions about your medical background and family history, in particular, if any of your family have bipolar disorder. You will be asked about your symptoms and when you first experienced them. If you are diagnosed with bipolar disorder, the psychiatrist will discuss treatment options with you.

Treatment for Bipolar


Bipolar disorder is usually treated with a combination of medication and psychotherapy. The medication often prescribed for this condition include mood stabilisers such as lithium, anticonvulsants, and atypical antipsychotics. Antidepressant medications may also be used to treat depressive episodes.


Psychotherapy can help people with bipolar disorder identify early warning signs that a mood episode is developing. It is also important for individuals to learn new coping techniques, so they don’t feel overwhelmed by stressors. Therapy may also be used to help someone develop or improve interpersonal relationships and regain lost job, school, or work functioning. 

Many people with bipolar disorder live full, successful lives, while others require ongoing treatment and support. It’s important to realise that while this condition can be very challenging, it is treatable.

Once a person can successfully regulate their moods, there are still many challenges that they can face that can sometimes lead to relapses or setbacks in treatment. For example, stress can trigger bipolar symptoms even when someone feels healthy for months or years. Some medications used to treat this illness come with side effects that can affect daily life and the ability to function. Those with this condition may also find it challenging to find the right combination of medication or dosage that works for them.

Bipolar disorder is a lifelong illness, but it doesn’t have to control a person’s life. By making healthy lifestyle choices and learning how to manage stress, people with bipolar disorder can prevent future mood episodes and live full lives.