Someone diagnosed with bipolar disorder (formerly known as manic depression) experiences swings in mood from periods of overactive, excited behaviour known as mania to deep depression. Between these severe highs and lows can be stable times. Some people also see or hear things that others around them don’t (known as having visual or auditory hallucinations) or have uncommon, unshared, beliefs (known as delusions).
If you have bipolar disorder, you will have periods or “episodes” of:
- depression – where you feel very low and lethargic
- mania – where you feel very high and overactive (less severe mania is known as hypomania)
The depression phase of bipolar disorder is often diagnosed first. You may initially be diagnosed with clinical depression before having a manic episode later (sometimes years later), after which you may 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 you’re feeling suicidal or having severe depressive symptoms, contact your GP, care co-ordinator or the local mental health emergency services as soon as possible.
If you can’t or don’t want to contact these people, call the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90. You can call them 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Alternatively, visit the Samaritans website or email email@example.com.
During a manic phase of bipolar disorder, you may feel very happy and have lots of ambitious plans and ideas. You may spend large amounts of money on things that you cannot afford and would not normally want. Not feeling like eating or sleeping, talking quickly and becoming annoyed easily are also common characteristics of the manic phase of bipolar disorder.
During the manic phase, you may feel very creative and view mania as a positive experience. However, during the manic phase of bipolar disorder, you may also have symptoms of psychosis (where you see or hear things that are not there or become convinced of things that are not true).
The exact causes of bipolar disorder are not known. However, it is thought that several things can trigger an episode. Extreme stress, overwhelming problems and life-changing events are often thought to contribute, as well as genetic and chemical factors.
It is thought that using a combination of treatments is the best way to control bipolar disorder. Treatment can include:
- medication to prevent episodes of mania, hypomania (less severe mania) and depression – these are known as mood stabilisers and 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 such as talking therapy to help deal with depression and to give you advice about how to improve your relationships
- lifestyle advice such as doing 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
Help and advice for people with a long-term condition or their carers is also available from charities, support groups and associations. This includes self-help and self-management advice and dealing with the practical aspects of a long-term condition. Find out more about living with bipolar disorder.