Bipolar disorder is a condition that affects your moods which can swing from one extreme to another. It used to be called Manic Depression. 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)
Symptoms of bipolar disorder depend on which mood you are experiencing. Unlike simple mood swings, each extreme episode of bipolar disorder can last for several weeks or more and some people may not experience a normal mood very often.
The episodes of mania and depression can last several weeks or more. Some people with the condition can swing from highs to lows quickly, without having a normal period in between. This is called rapid cycling.
The exact causes of bipolar disorder are unknown, although it’s believed that several things can trigger an episode. Extreme stress, overwhelming problems and life-changing events are thought to contribute, as well as genetic and chemical factors. Bipolar disorder is fairly common and one in every 100 adults will be diagnosed with the condition at some point in their life. Bipolar disorder can occur at any age, although it often develops between the ages of 18 and 24. 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 will have many episodes.
The depression phase
The depression phase of bipolar disorder is often diagnosed first. You may initially be diagnosed with clinical depression before having a future manic episode (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 local mental health emergency services as soon as possible.
If you want to talk to someone confidentially, call the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90. You can talk to them 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Alternatively, visit the Samaritans website or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The manic phase
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 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 this phase. You may feel very creative and view the manic phase of bipolar as a positive experience. However, you may also experience symptoms of psychosis (where you see or hear things that are not there or become convinced of things that are not true).