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Bipolar Disorder

Many well-known people suffer from and cope with bipolar disorder: they include –Winston Churchill, the actor Robin Williams and Stephen Fry, who is Special Ambassador to the Bipolar Foundation, Equilibrium.  Numerous other creative and artistic people attribute their creativity to the disorder.

Bipolar disorder – known in the past as manic depression – is a condition that affects moods, which can swing from one extreme to another.

Sufferers of bipolar disorder, have periods or "episodes" of:

  • depression – where they feel very low and lethargic
  • mania – where they feel very high and overactive (less severe mania is known as hypomania)

The symptoms of bipolar disorder depend on which mood is being experienced. Unlike simple mood swings, each extreme episode of bipolar disorder can last for several weeks or longer, and some people may not experience a "normal" mood very often.

During a manic phase of bipolar disorder, a person may feel very happy and have lots of ambitious plans and ideas. They may spend large amounts of money on things that they cannot afford and would not normally want. Not feeling like eating or sleeping, talking very quickly and becoming annoyed easily are also common characteristics of the manic phase of bipolar disorder.

Some people feel very creative and view mania as a positive experience. However, during the manic phase of bipolar disorder, they can also have symptoms of psychosis (where they see or hear things that are not there or become convinced of things that are not true).

Living with bipolar disorder

The high and low phases of bipolar disorder are often so extreme that they interfere with everyday life. However, there are several options for treating bipolar disorder that can make a difference. They aim to control the effects of an episode and help someone with bipolar disorder to live life as normally as possible.

It is thought that using a combination of treatments is the best way to control bipolar disorder. Treatment can include:

  • medication to prevent episodes of mania, hypomania (less severe mania) and depression – these are known as mood stabilisers and are taken every day, on a long-term basis
  • medication to treat the main symptoms of depression and mania when they occur
  • learning to recognise the triggers and signs of an episode of depression or mania
  • psychological treatment such as talking therapy to help deal with depression and to give you advice about how to improve your relationships.
  • lifestyle advice such as doing regular exercise, planning enjoyable activities and advice on improving diet and sleep.

What causes bipolar disorder?

The exact causes of bipolar disorder are not known. However, it is thought that several things can trigger an episode. Extreme stress, overwhelming problems and life-changing events are often thought to contribute, as well as genetic and chemical factors.

Who is affected?

Bipolar disorder is relatively common. Around one person in 100 is diagnosed with the condition.

Bipolar disorder can occur at any age, although it often develops between the ages of 18 and 24 years. Men and women from all backgrounds are equally likely to develop bipolar disorder.

The pattern of mood swings in bipolar disorder varies widely between people. For example, some people will only have a couple of bipolar episodes in their lifetime and will be stable in between, while others may experience many episodes.

Help and advice for people with a long-term condition is available from various charities, support groups and associations: 




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