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Bipolar Disorder

What is Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is characterised by extreme mood swings. These can range from extreme highs (mania) to extreme lows (depression).

Episodes of mania and depression often last for several weeks or months.


You may initially be diagnosed with clinical depression before you have a manic episode (sometimes years later), after which you may be diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

During an episode of depression, you may have overwhelming feelings of worthlessness, which can potentially lead to thoughts of suicide.


During a manic phase of bipolar disorder, you may:

  • feel very happy

  • have lots of energy, ambitious plans and ideas

  • spend large amounts of money on things you cannot afford and would not normally want

It's also common to:

  • not feel like eating or sleeping

  • talk quickly

  • become annoyed easily

You may feel very creative and view the manic phase of bipolar as a positive experience.

But you may also experience symptoms of psychosis, where you see or hear things that are not there or become convinced of things that are not true.

Signs & Symptoms 
  • People with bipolar disorder have episodes of:

  • depression – feeling very low and lethargic

  • mania – feeling very high and overactive

  • Symptoms of bipolar disorder depend on which mood you're experiencing.

  • Unlike simple mood swings, each extreme episode of bipolar disorder can last for several weeks (or even longer).

uring a period of depression, your symptoms may include:

  • feeling sad, hopeless or irritable most of the time

  • lacking energy

  • difficulty concentrating and remembering things

  • loss of interest in everyday activities

  • feelings of emptiness or worthlessness

  • feelings of guilt and despair

  • feeling pessimistic about everything

  • self-doubt

  • being delusional, having hallucinations and disturbed or illogical thinking

  • lack of appetite

  • difficulty sleeping

  • waking up early

  • suicidal thoughts


If a person is not treated, episodes of bipolar-related mania can last for between 3 and 6 months.

Episodes of depression tend to last longer, often 6 to 12 months.

But with effective treatment, episodes usually improve within about 3 months.

Most people with bipolar disorder can be treated using a combination of different treatments.

These can include 1 or more of the following:

  • medicine to prevent episodes of mania and depression – these are known as mood stabilisers, and you take them every day on a long-term basis

  • medicine to treat the main symptoms of depression and mania when they happen

  • learning to recognise the triggers and signs of an episode of depression or mania

  • psychological treatment – such as talking therapies, which help you deal with depression and provide advice on how to improve relationships

  • lifestyle advice – such as doing regular exercise, planning activities you enjoy that give you a sense of achievement, and advice on improving your diet and getting more sleep

Most people with bipolar disorder can receive most of their treatment without having to stay in hospital.

But hospital treatment may be needed if your symptoms are severe or you're being treated under the Mental Health Act, as there's a danger you may self-harm or hurt others.

In some circumstances, you could have treatment in a day hospital and return home at night.

Find out More: 

If you're feeling suicidal, go to your nearest A&E as soon as possible.

If you're feeling very depressed, contact a GP or your care co-ordinator or local mental health crisis team as soon as possible.

You could also call NHS 111 for an immediate assessment.

If you want to talk to someone confidentially, call the Samaritans, free of charge, on 116 123. You can talk to them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Or visit the Samaritans website or 

Find out More: 
Self - Help 
  • Try a book or online course

  • Exercise regularly

  • Learn to relax

  • Avoid caffeine

  • Avoid smoking and drinking

Support Groups 

Use self-management programmes

Self-management programmes aim to help you take an active part in your own recovery so you're not controlled by your illness.

Courses like those run by Self Management UK for mild to moderate mental health conditions may be helpful if you feel distressed and uncertain about bipolar disorder.

Some useful charities, support groups and associations include:

Talking therapies are useful for managing bipolar disorder, particularly during periods of stability.

Emergency Action plan:
  • Call for help – They need professional help from a psychiatrist.

  • Try not to tell them they’re wrong or that they’re making it up. These individuals in this position truly believe that what they say is right, telling them that they, in fact, haven’t won the lottery and that they’re ill could make them agitated.

  • Instead, ask them why they think they’ve won the lottery? Whom have they told about it? What are they planning on doing with it? Keep them talking.

  • Keep them safe – As these individuals are interpreting the world differently it is important to protect them, even if it’s trying to convince them not to spend any more money.

  • Maintain their dignity – These individuals can sometimes be found in embarrassing situations with people watching and staring. Try to take them somewhere quiet.

  • Break the stigma -There are millions of individuals living with bipolar disorder who are completely well. If you’re looking after a patient who suffers from bipolar disorder who isn’t having a bipolar episode, treat them as a normal individual.

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