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Bipolar disorder

Overview

Bipolar disorder is a condition that affects moods where people are able to swing from one extreme to another. It was previously known as 'manic depression'.

People with bipolar disorder experience periods or ‘episodes’ of:

  • depression – where they feel very low and lethargic
  • mania – where they feel very high and overactive (less severe mania is known as 'hypomania').

There are two main types of bipolar disorder:

  1. Bipolar disorder I - where people are more likely to experience mania for longer periods of time and experience psychotic symptoms.
  2. Bipolar disorder ll - where people don’t have psychotic symptoms but they generally have episodes of mania that last for a short time (such as hours up to a few days).

There are also people who experience ‘mixed episodes’ where they can feel some of the signs and symptoms of both depression and mania.

The symptoms of bipolar disorder depend on which mood the person is experiencing. Unlike simple mood swings, each extreme episode can last for several weeks or longer, and some people may not experience a ‘normal’ mood very often.

Sources: beyondblue (Types of Bipolar Disorder), NHS Choices, UK (Bipolar disorder)

Just diagnosed

Depression

The depression phase of bipolar disorder is often diagnosed first. You may initially be diagnosed with clinical depression before having a manic episode (sometimes years later). This is when you are mostly likely to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

During an episode of depression you may have overwhelming feelings of worthlessness which can potentially lead to thoughts of suicide. If this happens, or you are having severe depressive symptoms, contact your doctor or emergency department as soon as possible.

Mania

During a manic phase of bipolar disorder you may:

  • feel very happy and have lots of ambitious plans and ideas
  • feel very creative and view mania as a positive experience
  • experience symptoms of psychosis where you see or hear things that are not there or become convinced of things that are not true
  • not feel like eating or sleeping
  • start talking quickly
  • become annoyed easily.

beyondblue can provide more information on bipolar disorder through their website www.beyondblue.org.au, or by calling their information line on 1300 22 4636.

Sources: beyondblue (homepage), NHS Choices, UK (Bipolar disorder)

 

Living with

There are several options for treating bipolar disorder that can make a difference. They aim to control the effects of an episode and help people with bipolar disorder live life as normally as possible.

It is thought that using a combination of treatments is the best way to control bipolar disorder. These can include:

  • medicine to prevent episodes of mania, hypomania (less severe mania) and depression. These are taken every day on a long-term basis
  • medication to treat the main symptoms of depression and mania when they occur
  • learning to recognise the triggers and signs of an episode of depression or mania
  • psychological treatment to help deal with depression and to give you advice about how to improve your relationships
  • lifestyle advice such as engaging in regular exercise, planning activities that you enjoy and that give you a sense of achievement, and advice on improving your diet and getting more sleep.

Source: NHS Choices, UK (Bipolar disorder)

Facts & figures

  • Bipolar disorder is relatively common and can occur at any age, although it often develops between the ages of 18 and 24 years.
  • Men and women from all backgrounds are equally likely to develop bipolar disorder.
  • The pattern of mood swings in bipolar disorder varies widely between people. For example, some people will only have a couple of bipolar episodes in their lifetime and will be stable in between, while others may experience many episodes.

Source: NHS Choices, UK (Bipolar disorder)

Last reviewed: 
February, 2013