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What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a mood-disorder that can cause intense mood swings, changes in behavior, energy levels, and activity levels. Also known as manic-depression and manic-depressive disorder. This condition involves significant and intense mood swings between the opposite sides of low and high moods. “Lows” or low-mood periods are called depressive episodes, while “Highs” or high-mood periods are called manic-episodes. These periods can often last days or even months before swinging to the opposite side, often with periods of “normal-moods” between.

What are the types of Bipolar Disorder?

There are three main types of bipolar disorder: 


  • Bipolar I disorder involves manic episodes that last at least 7 days or manic symptoms so severe that you need immediate hospital care. Depressive episodes are also common. Those often last at least two weeks. This type of bipolar disorder can also involve mixed episodes.

  • Bipolar II disorder involves depressive episodes. But instead of full-blown manic episodes, there are episodes of hypomania. Hypomania is a less severe version of mania.

  • Cyclothymic disorder, or cyclothymia, also involves hypomanic and depressive symptoms. But they are not as intense or as long-lasting as hypomanic or depressive episodes. The symptoms usually last for at least two years in adults and for one year in children and teenagers.


What causes Bipolar Disorder?

The exact cause of bipolar disorder is unknown. Several factors likely play a role in the disorder. It is likely a combination of genetics, brain structure and function, biological and psychosocial factors.

 What are the symptoms of Bipolar Disorder? 

The symptoms of bipolar disorder can vary. However, symptoms typical involve swings between periods of depression and mania, each with their own (often opposite) set of symptoms listed below: 



  • Poor self-care and hygiene

  • Insomnia or sleeping too much

  • Poor concentration, memory and indecisiveness

  • Restlessness and/or anxiety

  • Abuse of substances

  • Changes in appetite and weight

  • In severe cases, thoughts of death or suicide

  • Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness or excessive guilt

  • Persistence of sad mood or feeling "empty"

  • Excessive crying

  • Loss of interest in usual activities

  • Loss of energy and increased fatigue



  • Greatly increased energy and/or restlessness

  • Extreme irritability

  • Racing thoughts

  • Rapid speech that is hard to interrupt

  • Poor concentration, memory and indecisiveness

  • Poor judgment

  • Abuse of substances

  • Changes in appetite and weight

  • Delusions and/or paranoia

  • In severe cases, thoughts of death or suicide

  • Decreased need for sleep

  • Restlessness and/or anxiety

  • Excessive feeling of well being (euphoria)

  • Unrealistic or grandiose belief in own abilities

  • Reckless, impulsive behavior (i.e. spending sprees, out of character sexual behaviors)


The depressed and manic phases alternate with one another but typically last days to months before switching. Between episodes, people often have periods of normal mood which may last days to years.


Some people with bipolar disorder may have milder symptoms. For example, you may have hypomania instead of mania. With hypomania, you may feel very good and find that you can get a lot done. You may not feel like anything is wrong. But your family and friends may notice your mood swings and changes in activity levels. They may realize that your behavior is unusual for you. After the hypomania, you might have severe depression.

What are the treatments for Bipolar Disorder?

Treatments can help many people struggling with bipolar disorder, including those with the most severe forms. Although there is no “cure” for bipolar disorder, medications are available to help reduce and/or manage symptoms and mood swings. However, Therapy (psychotherapy) is the most common treatment approach. 


Psychotherapy can help individuals struggling with bipolar disorder to stabilize daily routines, be vigilant of encroaching symptoms, learn effective tools to deal with stress and help develop methods of communicating symptoms and behaviors. 




Symptoms of bipolar disorder can often lead to damaged relationships, difficulty at work or school, and even suicide. People who are left untreated will continue to experience numerous shifts in mood. However, bipolar disorder can be treated and people can lead full and productive lives.

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