Mental Health Minute

How are you feeling?

Use Our Symptom Browser

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Everyone has ups and downs; feeling happy, sad and angry is normal. But if you are experiencing extreme mood swings, laughing more than you normally would or crying at the smallest thing, you may be suffering from bipolar disorder. It used to be called Manic Depression.

Bipolar disorder is no one’s fault. It does not come from a “weak” or unstable personality. It’s got nothing to do with being smart or with your intelligence. It is a condition that can be treated.

Bipolar disorder typically consists of three states:

  1. a high state, called “mania”, or “hypomania” when part way high
  2. a low state, called “depression”
  3. a well state, during which many people feel normal and function well.

Typically a person with Bipolar disorder will have episodes throughout their life in which they’re mood may be high, low or regular. Low mood depressed states are more common and typically last for months usually last longer than high periods. High periods typically last days, weeks or a few months. There are well periods of regular mood as well.

Signs and symptoms of mania include but are not limited to:

Decreased need for sleep

Signs and symptoms of depression include but are not limited to:

How common is it?

You or someone you care about may have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. You may now feel alone in facing the problems of the illness, but you are not alone. About one to two per cent of adults worldwide suffer from bipolar disorder. Men and women are affected equally.

What causes bipolar disorder?

Unfortunately, we do not know the answer to this question! However, research shows that genes play a strong role. Stress or difficult family relationships do not cause the illness but these factors may “trigger” an episode in someone who already has the illness. In some women, bipolar disorder may appear during pregnancy or shortly after it. There are medical clues to the brain’s mood regulation system not working as it should and allowing the normal ups and downs to swing too far and for too long.

How can bipolar disorder be treated?

The most common treatments are medication, counselling/psychotherapy, and lifestyle management. These can be used alone or in combination with other treatments. Approximately one in three people with bipolar disorder will remain completely free of symptoms just by taking mood-stabilizing medication. These mood stabilizers return mood to their normal state and try to prevent illness episodes and keep moods in a healthy range. Like other medical disorders such as high blood pressure or diabetes, bipolar disorder can be effectively managed and controlled by combining treatment and a healthy lifestyle. Counselling and Psychotherapy treatments such as CBT Cognitive Behaviour Therapy look to help you keep your thinking style accurate and avoid thought errors that can affect your moods. And behavior changes and lifestyle management focus on your body rhythms, sleep, eating and exercise schedules and activities to try and keep you on a healthy track. Unfortunately, people sometimes get so unwell that they require hospitalization for support and to protect them from their illness.

More information

For further information about bipolar disorder contact a community organization or your family doctor to find out about support and resources available in your community.


To be advised at a later date

Back to Top