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What is Bipolar Disorder?


bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder used to be known as manic depression, and is a mood disorder which sees a person swing from one mood extreme to another. About 1 in every 100 adults has bipolar disorder at some point in their life. It usually starts between the ages of 15 to 19 – and it rarely starts after the age of 40. Men and women are affected equally.

The phases someone with Bipolar will experience are depression and mania.

Depression phase

The depression phase sees the individual have usual depressive symptoms; lethargic, feelings of hopelessness and potentially suicidal thoughts. Sometimes this can be so bad that the individual can’t even bring themselves to get out of bed. More of the symptoms are listed below:

  • difficulty concentrating and remembering things
  • loss of interest in everyday activities
  • feelings of guilt and despair
  • suicidal feelings
  • lack of appetite
  • losing self-confidence

Manic phase

During a manic phase, the individual (usually) feels the opposite as to what they did during the depression. They will feel happy, ambitious and full of life. Unfortunately, it isn’t all roses. People with bipolar may spend a lot of money on things that they can’t afford or may not even want normally. They may also talk fast, not eat or sleep, and become angered easily. Mania usually starts suddenly and lasts between two weeks and four to five months. Depression often lasts longer, on average around six months. It can last longer, but usually less than a year.

It is also possible that psychosis symptoms may be experienced; hearing voices or things that aren’t there or being delusional. Other symptoms are listed below:

  • feeling self-important
  • feeling full of great new ideas and having important plans
  • more interested in sex
  • less inhibited in general.

Types of Bipolar disorder

The episodes of depression and mania can vary between individuals, and the type of bipolar you have will be classified depending upon what you experience.

  • Bipolar I – You have had at least one high or manic episode that lasts longer than a week. Those with bipolar I may only have manic episodes, but may experience depression at some point. The manic episode can last between 3-6 months, and the depression, when it occurs, may last 6-12.
  • Bipolar II – This type is characterised by severe depressive episodes alternating with episodes of hypomania. The hypomania is a manic episode that is only mild, in comparison to the mania experienced with other forms of Bipolar.
  • Rapid Cycling – This is your type if you have more than four mood swings in a 12 month period. Swings will be from a high to low phase quickly, without having a “normal” period in between. This affects around 1 in 10 people with bipolar disorder, and can happen with both types I and II.
  • Cyclothymia – The mood swings are not as severe as those in full bipolar disorder, but can be longer. They will be short periods of mild depression and short periods of hypomania.
  • Mixed state – This is where a person with bipolar will experience both depression and mania together. They may be overactive but have a depressed mood.


It’s important to know that Bipolar can be managed but not cured. It can run in families and may be a result of a problem with the brain. This is why it can often be controlled with medication; because there is a deficiency being made up for with the medication.

There are some things you can try to control mood swings so that they stop short of becoming full-blown episodes of mania or depression, but medication is still often needed to:

  • keep your mood stable (prophylaxis)
  • treat a manic or depressive episode.

The medications usually include:

  • Medications to stabilise mood –  More than one medication may be needed to control mood swings effectively. The most common one used is Lithium.
  • Anticonvulsant drugs
  • Antipsychotic drugs

All of these drugs have side effects, and some of them can be serious. The thing is though, quality of life can often be vastly improved, so it can be worth it. You should consult your GP as soon as possible if you think any of the above may be affecting you.