Everything You Want to Know About Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder also referred to as manic depression, is a kind of mental condition where a person suffers from extreme shifts in mood. Here patients may spend weeks feeling like they are on top of the world and after some time they may feel depressed from everything around them. The duration of shifts in mood differs from person to person.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

According to Wikipedia, “Bipolar disorder or bipolar affective disorder (historically known as manic-depressive disorder) is a psychiatric diagnosis for a mood disorder in which people experience disruptive mood swings”.

How many people suffer from bipolar disorder?

About 1 in every 100 adults has bipolar disorder at some point in their life. Both men and women are equally affected by this kind of mental problem. The problem usually starts during or after teenage years and in most cases; the symptoms can be noticed amongst people between 15 and 30 years old.

Main causes of bipolar disorder

There are very less information regarding the actual causes of bipolar disorder. But there are certain factors such as genetics, hormone and brain chemical imbalances and stressful life that can cause this kind of mental problem.

Genetics: According to some studies, it has been found that at time bipolar disorder can be due to genetic contribution also. People having someone in the family with bipolar disorder have a higher chance of having this problem in future. Till now the genes that cause this problem has not been identified.

Stress: Too much stress in life can also be the reason behind bipolar disorder. Stress can lead to drastic or sudden changes in mood which can trigger this kind of problem.
Hormonal imbalance: Whenever there are hormonal imbalances in the body, the chances of having the problem of bipolar disorder becomes higher.

Changes in the brain: Physical changes that take place inside the brain can also lead to this kind of mental problem. Especially, neurotransmitter imbalance can cause bipolar disorder. Neurotransmitter facilitates the communication between brain cells.

Traumatic event: Some kind of traumatic event may also be the reason behind bipolar disorder. Traumatic events can range from death of a loved one, changing location, losing a job to anything that can cause stress. 

Apart from these causes, sleep deprivation, abnormal thyroid function and circadian rhythm disturbances can also cause bipolar disorder. At the same certain medications, most notably antidepressant drugs can also be the reason behind this kind of mental problem.

What are the different types of bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder can be of different types. It can be broadly categorized into three types –Bipolar Type I disorder, Bipolar Type II disorder and Cyclothymia.

Bipolar I Disorder

A person is suffering from Bipolar I Disorder where there is at least one manic episode or mixed episodes. The episodes can be with or without depression. However, most patients have had at least one depressive episode.

Bipolar II Disorder

A person is suffering from Bipolar II Disorder where there are one or more episodes of severe depression and at least one hypo manic episode. A hypo manic state is less severe than a manic one.


Also known as cyclothymic disorder, this is a milder form of bipolar disorder. It consists of cyclical mood swings. Here a patient suffers from numerous mood disturbances, with bouts of hypo manic symptoms which may involve periods of moderate or mild depression.

In order to diagnose the type of bipolar disorder, a doctor needs to keep track on how quickly a patient moves from manic episodes to depression and back again, as well as how severe the symptoms are.

What are the signs and symptoms?

The problem of bipolar disorder can cause drastic mood swings. A a person can have both extreme high feelings and low feelings. In between, a person also have periods of normal moods. These highs and lows periods are known as episodes of mania and depression. So, people with bipolar disorder show signs of depression and mania.

Signs during depressive episodes include:

  • Feeling of despair, hopelessness, or empty
  • Extreme sadness
  • Changes in appetite
  • Difficulty in sleeping
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • No interest in earlier activities
  • Loss of energy, fatigue and tiredness
  • Difficulty in concentrating, remembering and making decisions
  • Anxiety
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Irritation
  • Inability to experience pleasure

Signs during manic episodes include:

  • Feeling elated
  • Talking and thinking very quickly
  • Being easily distracted
  • Not eating properly
  • Sleeping very little, but feeling extremely energetic
  • Getting impulsive
  • Sudden or extreme irritability
  • Imagining special connections with God, celebrities, or political leaders
  • Unrealistic beliefs in one’s abilities
  • Hyperactivity
  • Excessively risky behavior
  • Getting easily distracted
  • Underperforming at work or school

The signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder can look very different in different people. Some people are more prone to either mania or depression and at the same time some people can show equal signs of both mania and depression. At the same time some people will have frequent mood disruptions, while others will experience only a few over a lifetime.

Diagnosing bipolar disorder

A doctor or a psychiatrist can diagnose this kind of mental problem on the basis of self-reported experiences described by a person. At times behavior abnormalities noticed by family members, close friends along with secondary signs noticed by health care experts help in detecting the problem. A doctor goes through a list of criteria which includes the presence as well as duration of specific symptoms to come to a conclusion.

There are two popular criteria used by doctors to diagnose bipolar disorder. First one is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders given by the American Psychiatric Association. The second one is International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems prepared by World Health Organization.

After doing a physical examination, doctors also do a series of other tests to come to a solid conclusion. 

Treatment for bipolar disorder

Once diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a person needs extensive treatment. Bipolar disorder needs long term treatment. As it is a kind of chronic, relapsing illness, continuous treatment is a must. It is not like you can follow a treatment for a few months and stop it on your own. The treatment can be done by your family doctor or at times you may even need to see a psychiatrist too in order to control your mood swings and make sure you stay well.


Medications are very important in treating people with bipolar disorder. Medications known as “mood stabilizers” are usually prescribed to help control bipolar disorder as it can smooth out the feelings of low and high. Antidepressant medicine can help reduce the symptoms of depression. Antipsychotic drugs and anticonvulsant drugs are also prescribed. Once the mood swings are under control, patients are kept on maintenance medication to avoid re-occurrence of symptoms.

Talk Therapy

Talk therapy or counseling plays a very important role in treating bipolar disorder. Regular counseling sessions help patients to cope with their day to day work. Counseling can help patients to deal with stress, family concerns and relationship problems. There are different types of therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy and social rhythm therapy that are used in the treatment of bipolar disorder.

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

Electroconvulsive therapy is also used in the treatment of bipolar disorder. In this kind of therapy, electric current is used to cause a seizure in the brain. This therapy is used when a person suffers from severe symptoms. 

Medications and therapies are usually not enough to fully control the symptoms of bipolar disorder. Patients need to work on changing their lifestyle and there must be scope for social support also.

Self help for treating bipolar disorder

It is not that easy for people to deal with bipolar disorder. But by making smart choices and making useful changes in the lifestyle and daily habits, you can easily keep this kind of mental problem under control. Here are certain things that can help people suffering from bipolar disorder:

  • First of it is essential to gain appropriate knowledge. There are medical journals, websites and so on where you can learn about bipolar disorder. Gain as much knowledge as possible.
  • Make efforts to keep your stress in check. It is advisable to avoid situations that can cause stress. At the same maintain a balance between home and office works and take out time to practice relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, or deep breathing.
  • Do not lead on isolated life. You can always seek help from family members and close friends. You can always join a support group to get support and encouragement.
  • Try to lead a healthy life by getting enough sleep daily, eating a well balanced diet, regular physical activities and so on.
  • It is also essential to monitor your moods. Have a close eye on the symptoms and signs that shoes your moods are swinging. Try to control it before it starts. Tell your doctor about the early warning signs.
  • It is advisable to avoid caffeine and over-the-counter medicines for colds, allergies and pain. Also stop drinking alcohol or smoking.
  • Do not hide anything from your doctor. Share all of your symptoms, health history and family health history with your doctor so that he can prescribe you the right medicines.
  • Take your medicine every day, and without consulting your doctor do not make the mistake of not taking your medicines. The medicines and therapies need time and it is your doctor who can give you the right suggestions.

Famous People Affected by Bipolar Disorder

Here is a list of some famous people who suffer or suffered from bipolar disorder:

  • Adam Ant, British musician
  • Andrea Breth, German stage-director
  • Alastair Campbell, press advisor
  • Adrian Borland, British musician
  • Andy Behrman, author   
  • Barney Bubbles, graphic designer
  • Catherine Zeta-Jones, British (Welsh) actress
  • Dick Cavett, television journalist
  • Emilie Autumn, American musician
  • Frank Bruno, boxer
  • Graham Greene, British novelist
  • Iris Chang, historian and journalist for the San Francisco Chronicle
  • John Clare, poet
  • Jack Irons, drummer, formerly of Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • Kurt Cobain, musician
  • Ludwig Boltzmann, physicist and mathematician
  • Maria Bamford, American comedian
  • Maurice Benard, actor
  • Mary Kay Bergman, voice actress
  • Mel Gibson, Australian actor and director
  • Neil Cole, former Australian Labor party politician
  • Patricia Cornwell, American crime writer
  • Quincy Carter, American football player
  • Russell Brand, comedian and actor
  • Rosemary Clooney, singer and actress
  • Sophie Anderton, British model
  • Stephen Fry, British actor, comedian and writer
  • Tony Slattery, actor and comedian
  • Vincent Crane, keyboard player of Atomic Rooster
  • Virginia Woolf, writer

Like all serious mental problems, bipolar disorder can have a huge impact on one’s life and relationships with others. Thus, people showing the symptoms of bipolar disorder must undergo treatment for a longer period of time. 

Organizations Working for Bipolar disorder:

Useful Resources: