bipolar disorder mind mental health connection watercolor painting illustration hand drawing design symbol

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is a mental illness that brings severe high and low moods and changes in sleep, energy, thinking, and behaviour.

People who have bipolar disorder can have periods in which they feel overly happy and energized and other periods of feeling very sad, hopeless, and sluggish. In between those periods, they usually feel normal. You can think of the highs and the lows as two “poles” of mood, which is why it’s called “bipolar” disorder.


What Are the Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?

In bipolar disorder, the dramatic episodes of high and low moods do not follow a set pattern. Someone may feel the same mood state (depressed or manic) several times before switching to the opposite mood. These episodes can happen over a period of weeks, months, and sometimes even years.

How severe it gets differs from person to person and can also change over time, becoming more or less severe.

Symptoms of mania (“the highs”):

Excessive happiness, hopefulness, and excitement

Sudden changes from being joyful to being irritable, angry, and hostile


Rapid speech and poor concentration

Increased energy and less need for sleep

Unusually high sex drive

Making grand and unrealistic plans

Showing poor judgment

Drug and alcohol abuse

Becoming more impulsive

During depressive periods (“the lows”), a person with bipolar disorder may have:


Loss of energy

Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness

Not enjoying things they once liked

Trouble concentrating

Uncontrollable crying

Trouble making decisions


Needing more sleep


Appetite changes that make them lose or gain weight

Thoughts of death or suicide

Attempting suicide

Who Gets Bipolar Disorder?

When someone develops bipolar disorder, it usually starts when they’re in late adolescence or young adulthood. Rarely, it can happen earlier in childhood. Bipolar disorder can run in families.

Men and women are equally likely to get it. Women are somewhat more likely than men to go through “rapid cycling,” which is having four or more distinct mood episodes within a year. Women also tend to spend more time depressed than men with bipolar disorder.


What Causes Bipolar Disorder?

There is no single cause. Genes, brain changes, and stress can all play a role.


How Is Bipolar Disorder Diagnosed?

If you or someone you know has symptoms of bipolar disorder, talk to your family doctor or a psychiatrist. They will ask questions about mental illnesses that you, or the person you’re concerned about, have had, and any mental illnesses that run in the family. The person will also get a complete psychiatric evaluation to tell if they have likely bipolar disorder or another mental health condition.”


Diagnosing bipolar disorder is all about the person’s symptoms and determining whether they may be the result of another cause (such as low thyroid, or mood symptoms caused by drug or alcohol abuse). How severe are they? How long have they lasted? How often do they happen?


The most telling symptoms are those that involve highs or lows in mood, along with changes in sleep, energy, thinking, and behavior.


Talking to close friends and family of the person can often help the doctor distinguish bipolar disorder from major depressive (unipolar) disorder or other psychiatric disorders that can involve changes in mood, thinking, and behavior.

Bipolar mental disorder abstract psychological illness concept as a butterfly divided as one side in grey and sad colors with the other in full bright tones as a medical metaphor for psychiatric mood or feelings imbalance.

What Are the Treatments for Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder can be treated. It’s a long-term condition that needs ongoing care.

Medication is the main treatment.


Bipolar Disorder and Suicide

Some people who have bipolar disorder may become suicidal.


Learn the warning signs and seek immediate medical help for them:

Depression (changes in eating, sleeping, activities)

Isolating yourself

Talking about suicide, hopelessness, or helplessness

Acting recklessly

Taking more risks

Having more accidents

Abusing alcohol or other drugs

Focusing on morbid and negative themes

Talking about death and dying

Crying more, or becoming less emotionally expressive

Giving away possessions