What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a condition affecting the chemical balance in the brain, that primarily makes it shift between episodes of “up” (feeling energetic) or “down” (feeling depressed). While it is a life-long condition that is not curable, it can be treated effectively with the right medication.

Cross icon

Bipolar disorder is not:

Bipolar episodes happen whether wanted or not. The risk for developing bipolar disorder is mainly due to genetics, however the exact mechanism is yet unknown. Environmental and social factors may also have a large impact, especially if there is an underlying genetic risk.
Anyone can feel sad when something bad happens to them, as well as feeling good when they achieve something. Both are moods as a result of an event. For people with bipolar disorder, there is a risk that life events might heighten or deepen an ongoing episode, but episodes may also happen without a triggering event.
Being manic or hypomanic is sometimes described as the best thing in the world. Having the energy to do things and meet people might seem fantastic, but bipolar disorder also comes with depression.
While bipolar disorder can be managed using medicine and various other treatments, it cannot be cured.
Check icon

Bipolar disorder is:

Being bipolar and not getting treated for it can significantly ruin things like school and work. Manic symptoms such as lack of impulse control often lead to financial and physically dangerous behavior. With depression often comes low self esteem and the feeling of being worthless, which can affect a bipolar person's focus and social abilities. In severe cases depression might lead to suicidal thoughts or attempts.
Bipolar persons can pose many forms of danger to themselves during episodes due to impulsive behavior. During (hypo)mania the person may overspend, engage in dangerous activities, have delusions or psychosis. During a depressive episode the person can be dangerous towards their own health.
Every bipolar person experiences it differently and may not have all of the symptoms of types of episodes.

States of bipolar disorder

These are the different states of bipolar disorder. Together, the form they types listed in the next section.

During mania, the brain is very active. The person might feel euphoric and creative, but also comes with a risk of reckless or impulsive behavior with symptoms listed below. There is also a risk for psychosis. Doing mentally and physically intensive tasks on low or no sleep can be possible.

Hypomania is where the brain is at a hyperactive state. Emotions, physical sensations, and energy are intensified as the need for sleep decreases. Racing thoughts and grandiose delusions often lead to the setting of arbitrary goals, impulsive purchases, and/or dangerous behavior. Being overly talkative is also common.

Bipolar depression is a state that typically follows (hypo)mania. It also may come suddenly or slowly develop after a period of euthymia. It can be debilitating to a large degree and significantly decrease the ability to function. Work and school may become impossible.

Euthymia is a somewhat stable state without depression or mania/hypomania. It is the target state when medicating. It does not, however, feel like “normal” for a non-bipolar person.

Mixed states is when symptoms of both depression and (hypo)mania are present. The person may shift from one state to another rapidly or exhibit both symptoms simultaneously.

Types of bipolar disorder

The different types of bipolar disorder are a combination of the above states.

Consists of mania, hypomania, mixed states, euthymia and depression.

Consists of hypomania, mixed states, euthymia and depression.

The symptoms of cyclothymia are milder than bipolar disorder, but also concern feelings of emotional lows and highs. Since the symptoms are mild, cyclothymia is often undiagnosed and untreated, but the mood swings might still affect social and professional life.

Common symptoms

The following are some common symptoms for people with some form of anxiety disorder. They do not apply to all people, as the condition is individual and varies from person to person.

Manic episodes can lead to more impulsive spending, unsafe sexual behaviour and more.

Restlessness is a feeling of always needing to do something. This can happen during manic or hypomanic episodes. It often needs to be high-energy or mentally demanding. Doing nothing or something calm feels impossible.

Insomnia is not being able to sleep despite wanting to and feeling tired. This can happen in all states.

Mania/hypomania and depression can both affect appetite and feeling of hunger. Medication for bipolar disorder might also affect the appetite.

Bipolar persons might get paranoid. They can feel like someone is out to get them, or following them, for example.

Suicidal thoughts, attempts and deaths are all more common with bipolar disorder.

During hypomania or mania, a person might feel euphoric. Everything feels great and all worries disappear. The feeling is, however, not based in reality, as the symptom causes the person to look overly positively at the world.

With hypomania or mania, an increased sense of confidence or self-worth can happen. This again is not completely based in reality, but rather how the bipolar person perceives the world and how chemistry in the brain works.

During mania, psychosis may occur. It can involve auditory and visual hallucinations, where someone may see or hear things that are not there. There may also be the presence of delusions.

A bipolar person in both high and low states has higher risk of spending too much money on unnecessary or risky investments or things.

During mania or hypomania primarily, a bipolar person may experience a stronger sexual drive than usual.

Self-harm is more common with bipolar disorder. It may arise as a coping mechanism for other symptoms.

A common thing to have alongside bipolar disorder is OCD. The symptoms of OCD such as intrusive thoughts and compulsions may get worse with certain states of bipolar disorder.

People experiencing mania or hypomania are more likely to find themselves in accidents. This can be due to poor risk perception or overconfidence, with the person believing they can do things they cannot.

What can I do?

  1. Stop joking about bipolar disorder. These jokes and memes are often insensitive and hurtful to people with the condition. By joking, you’re spreading misinformation and disrespecting people with bipolar disorder.

  2. Spread awareness. Next time you hear a person using the term bipolar disorder incorrectly or having a stereotypical view of people with bipolar disorder, send them this page.

  3. Support groups for bipolar disorder. There are many organizations that raise money to support people with bipolar disorder and their families. Even if you can’t support them yourself, you can help share these groups with others, so they can support these groups.

The contents of this page is based on a Google doc. Feel free to suggest changes.