Bipolar Disorder

Find out all you need to know about bipolar disorder, a mood disorder characterised by extreme moods. Learn about the signs and symptoms, the different types of bipolar disorder, and what to do if you think you might have symptoms.

Signs this might be a problem…

  • you have extreme moods that last for periods of days, weeks or months
  • your mood seems unstable and out of sync with what’s going on in your life
  • you have irregular sleeping patterns
  • people often comment that you’re in a really high mood
  • at other times, you feel really low and depressed.
boy in class with pencil

What exactly is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder is when people experience serious extremes of mood, to the point where their moods interfere with their everyday life. If you have bipolar disorder your mood is likely to go through extreme highs (known as mania or hypomania) and lows (known as depression). However, what those moods feel like and how quickly or slowly you move between high and low moods is different for everyone. As a result, several different types of bipolar disorder have been identified.

The mood changes and feelings experienced by people with bipolar disorder are different from mood changes that most people experience in everyday life. Mood changes that occur as a result of bipolar disorder are extremely disruptive and impact on a person’s ability to function day to day. 

Signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder

Someone with bipolar disorder will experience mood changes between manic and depressed episodes.

When experiencing a manic episode, it’s common to feel or experience:

  • really happy
  • energetic
  • racing thoughts
  • irritable
  • a reduced need to sleep
  • more sexual than usual.

When experiencing a depressed episode, it’s common to feel or experience:

  • uninterested in all activities
  • changes in appetite
  • weight loss or gain
  • changes in sleeping patterns
  • a loss of energy
  • unable to concentrate.

Types of bipolar disorder

There are several different types of bipolar disorder, and the type you’re diagnosed with often depends on your individual experience of mood changes, including how quickly you swing between different moods. 

  • Bipolar I. People with bipolar 1 usually experience extreme highs (mania) that last for longer, depressive episodes, and may experience psychotic episodes.
  • Bipolar II. People with bipolar II usually experience highs which are less extreme (called hypomania) and only last for a few hours or days. They also have depressive episodes. Between extreme moods, they might have times where their mood is relatively normal.
  • Cyclothymic disorder. A milder form of bipolar in which moods are not as extreme.
  • Bipolar disorder otherwise not specified. The mood changes that are experienced by people with bipolar disorder are different for everyone; this diagnosis is for those people who don’t fit into the above three categories.
All types of bipolar disorder are treatable.

What to do about it

If you think you may have bipolar disorder, it’s really worth visiting your GP for a consultation. Bipolar disorder can be hard to diagnose but it is able to be treated and managing it will be much easier if you get professional advice. A diagnosis may take a while as your GP will need to monitor your mood over a period of time, but once diagnosed your doctors can work with you to create a treatment plan which suits your personal circumstances and experience. Check out more info on treatment for bipolar disorder.

What can I do now?

  • Try to stick to a daily routine, including healthy sleep patterns.
  • Don’t make hasty decisions.
  • Track your mood so you know when to get help.
Last reviewed: 16 February, 2014
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