Bipolar Disorder


What is bipolar disorder?

Lots of people have ups and downs and are familiar with the experience of mood swings. Bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression or bipolar affective disorder) is characterised by periods, or ‘episodes’, of unusually high and low levels of mood, energy and activity. Between these episodes, mood is generally what is considered ‘normal’ for the individual.

How do I know if I have bipolar disorder?

You may be experiencing mania, depression or mixed state.

What is mania?

Mania is a period of elated or irritable and agitated mood, such as becoming more talkative, speaking faster, racing thoughts, reduced need for sleep, restlessness, easily distracted, impulsive or carefree, disinhibited or involved in risky behaviour such as promiscuity or over spending. Hypomania is a less severe form of mania.

What is depression?

Depression is a period of low mood and/or loss of interest and pleasure typically lasting at least 2 weeks. The following symptoms are experienced for most of the day, nearly every day, change to sleep patterns and appetite, crying, feeling lethargic or agitated, loss of energy, feeling worthless, having feelings of wanting to harm yourself.

What is mixed state?

Mixed state is a depressed mood with the restlessness and overactivity of a manic episode. Mixed states are particularly dangerous because the loss of inhibition alongside suicidal ideas can lead to spontaneous self harm.

What should I do if I think I have bipolar disorder?

It is important to remember that mood fluctuations are a normal part of our emotional lives. However if your mood is so high or so low that you cannot carry on your normal day to day activities or if other people are commenting on your behaviour as being unlike your normal self then a good starting place is with your GP who can refer you for the appropriate help, usually a community mental health team, a crisis team or a psychiatrist.

What can I do to help myself?

  • Learn to relax, there are books, CDs and DVDs to help you.
  • Talk to someone about how you are feeling
  • Try to keep to a set routine each day
  • Try keeping a simple chart of your mood and sleep pattern each day so that you can get a clear idea of how and when your mood is high or low and what your sleep pattern is. You might then want to show this to your mental health professional.
  • Self help groups and information. Bipolar UK is a charity with local self help groups which you may find helpful. Access them at:

What professional help could I get?

You can talk to your GP about how you are feeling. They may recommend:

  • Medication, usually antidepressants, mood stabilisers or antipsychotics
  • Talking therapy, usually counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), psychoeducation or family focused therapy
  • Referral to a psychiatrist
  • Referral to a community mental health team

Where can I find out more?

Talk about Bipolar Disorder

Last reviewed by the Mental Health Forum Web Team on 20 June 2021
Next review due: 20 June 2024