Bipolar disorder is a condition in which a person goes through cycles of very high and very low mood. The high mood phases are called mania; the low mood phases are called depression.
During episodes of mania, the person may feel very happy and energetic. They may speak very quickly about a lot of different topics and feel like they have many exciting ideas; they may also experience high confidence and a sense of importance. However, they may also engage in risky or irrational behaviour (such as spending money recklessly).
During episodes of depression, the person may feel empty, sad, irritable or hopeless. They may have low energy, talk very slowly, and feel like they cannot do basic things. They may also have disturbed sleep and little appetite for food.
Sometimes, hallucinations can accompany episodes of either mania or depression.
Without treatment, phases of mania can last 3-6 months, while phases of depression can last 6-12 months.
A person is diagnosed with bipolar disorder after being assessed by a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist asks the patient questions in order to see if their behaviour fits the pattern of bipolar disorder. They also ask about other medical conditions and whether anyone in the person’s family might have similar conditions.
Treatment for bipolar disorder includes both medicine and “talking therapies” (psychotherapy and lifestyle help).
In terms of medicine, mood stabilisers can be used to prevent cycles between mania and depression. Medicine to treat the symptoms of these episodes is also used.
Talking therapies include helping the person recognise when they are undergoing an episode of mania or depression; talking with a professional during episodes of depression to help deal with the feelings involved in this phase; and helping the person live a generally healthy lifestyle.