Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder which is marked by extreme changes in a person’s mood, thinking and energy over several weeks or months.
About one in 50 adults in Ireland live with bipolar disorder. It impacts men and women equally, and affects people from all backgrounds and walks of life. While it can happen at any age, the first signs are often seen in a person’s late teens or early adulthood.
We do not know the exact cause of bipolar disorder; however, it is thought that our genetics, biology and environments may all be involved.
People living with bipolar disorder can live full and healthy lives with the right support and tools to understand and manage the condition.
Signs of bipolar disorder
Bipolar disorder brings periods of intense changes in mood, which can feel like they are outside of our control and can impact our daily lives.
People with bipolar disorder experience episodes of highs and lows, which are called elation, or mania, and depression. These episodes can have different signs and symptoms. While these symptoms may last some time, they will pass, usually with the help of medication and talk therapies. The person can return to their regular mood in between episodes and can be free of symptoms for long periods.
You can see some frequent symptoms of elation and depression below.
Symptoms of elation
If you are going through an episode of elation, you may:
- Have increased energy levels
- Feel very happy or positive, whether or not things are going well
- Feel uncontrollable excitement
- Be very talkative
- Be very irritable
- Be more argumentative, pushy or aggressive
- Take risks in your behaviour
- Spend uncontrollably.
You may also experience a hypomanic episode. This is similar to an episode of elation, but is usually milder and lasts for a shorter period of just a few days. People can often continue their daily lives as normal during a hypomanic episode.
Symptoms of depression
During a depressive episode, you may go through:
- Low moods or sadness
- A sense of hopelessness or helplessness
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Weight loss
- Physical slowing or agitation
- A lack of interest in sex
- Sleep problems, such as sleeping too much or not being able to sleep
- Thoughts of death or suicide, or an attempt at suicide.
If you are experiencing thoughts of self-harm or suicide and are in immediate distress, please contact the emergency services by calling 999 in Ireland or 112 anywhere in Europe.
Treatment for bipolar disorder
There is more and more that can be done to treat and manage bipolar disorder.
Treatment for bipolar disorder
If you are concerned that you may be experiencing symptoms, reach out to someone you trust and speak to your GP, who may refer you for assessment and treatment.
Managing bipolar disorder generally involves two steps to respond to the episodes of elation and depression. These involve:
- Treating the current episode of elation or depression
- Preventing the long-term recurrence of elation and depression.
Taking medication is often one of the first steps to getting a current episode under control. Reducing the immediate symptoms of an episode makes it easier to manage the condition and engage in other supports.
Psychological treatment for bipolar disorder can include psychoeducation, which means learning about the condition, its symptoms, and what you can do to stay well. In particular, group psychoeducation has been shown to both lengthen the amount of time between episodes and reduce the number of episodes.
Along with medication and psychoeducation, many people adopt other practices to live well and manage their bipolar disorder. These can include dealing with things that can trigger an episode, and responding to symptoms very early on. Making lifestyle adjustments can also help, as can receiving support from family, supporters and care teams.
Support and Information Service
If you have questions about bipolar disorder or treatment for it, you can talk to an experienced mental health nurse by calling our Support and Information Service on 01 249 3333 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. This service runs from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, with a call-back and answering service outside these hours.
Information and support
If you are interested in reading more about bipolar disorder, you may find the books below helpful. You can also check our Information Centre for more information and a wider selection of books.
- Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide: What You and Your Family Need to Know | David Miklowitz
- Bipolar Disorder – The Ultimate Guide | Sarah Owen and Amanda Saunders
- Beyond Bipolar: 7 Steps to Wellness | Jane Mountain
- Living Well with Depression and Bipolar Disorder | John McManamy