Bipolar Disorder

A disorder associated with episodes of mood swings ranging from depressive lows to manic highs.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy and activity levels.

Types of Bipolar Disorder

There are four basic types of bipolar disorder:

  • Bipolar I Disorder. Defined by manic episodes that last at least 7 days. Manic symptoms are often so severe that a patient needs immediate hospital care. Depressive episodes often occur concurrently with mania.

  • Bipolar II Disorder. Defined by a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes. Symptoms are not as intense as the manic episodes described above.

  • Cyclothymic Disorder (also called cyclothymia). Defined by numerous periods of hypomanic symptoms, as well as periods of depressive symptoms lasting for at least 2 years (1 year in children and adolescents).

  • Other Specified and Unspecified Bipolar and Related Disorders. Defined by bipolar disorder symptoms that do not match the three categories listed above.


People with bipolar disorder experience periods of unusually intense emotion, changes in sleep patterns and activity levels, and other unusual behaviors. These distinct periods are called “mood episodes.” Mood episodes are drastically different from typical moods/behaviors.

Bipolar Symptoms

The primary symptoms of bipolar disorder are dramatic and unpredictable mood swings.

Mania Symptom

Mania symptoms may include excessive happiness, excitement, irritability, restlessness, increased energy, insomnia, racing thoughts, high sex drive, and a tendency to make grand and unattainable plans.

Depression Symptom

Depression symptoms may include sadness, anxiety, irritability, loss of energy, uncontrollable crying, change in appetite, weight loss or gain, fatigue, indecisiveness, and suicidal thoughts.

How to Help Someone Experiencing a Manic Episode

Answer questions briefly, calmly and honestly. Avoid being drawn into long conversations or arguments with a manic individua, as these can be overstimulating and upsetting. People with elevated moods are vulnerable despite their apparent confidence, and they tend to take offence easily.

Be cautious about becoming swept up in an individual’s hypomanic or manic mood. If the person starts to argue, try to remain detached. Consider postponing the discussion, saying something like, “I can see this means a lot to you and we need to discuss it, but I am upset and tired now. Let’s discuss it in the morning when my head is clearer.”

In order to prevent risky or inappropriate behavior associated with bipolar disorder (e.g. reckless spending, unrealistic projects, gambling, promiscuity and reckless driving) discuss with the person precautions (s)he can take to prevent these activities and negative consequences during manic episodes (e.g. give his/her credit cards to you temporarily to prevent reckless spending, give his/her car keys to you to prevent reckless driving, or staying at home if promiscuity or socially inappropriate behavior is a problem).

Learn more.

Treatments and Therapies

Bipolar disorder is a lifelong illness, and episodes of mania and depression typically come back over time. Between episodes, many people with bipolar disorder are free of mood changes, but some people may have lingering symptoms. Treatment can help bipolar individuals gain better control of their mood swings and other bipolar symptoms. An effective treatment plan usually includes a combination of medication and psychotherapy (also called “talk therapy”).


Different types of medications can help control symptoms of bipolar disorder. Medications generally used to treat bipolar disorder include mood stabilizers, atypical antipsychotics, antidepressants, and various sleep medications.


In combination with medication, psychotherapy can be an effective treatment for bipolar disorder. It can provide support, education, and guidance to people with bipolar disorder and their loved ones. Some psychotherapy treatments used to treat bipolar disorder include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), family-focused therapy, interpersonal and social rhythm therapy, and psychoeducation.

Sources:  National Institute of Mental HealthMayo ClinicBipolar Caregivers