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What is Bipolar?

Tree showing two seasons to represent bipolar

Bipolar disorder (sometimes called bipolar affective disorder) is a long-term condition that causes a person to experience extreme shifts in mood, energy and behaviour.

Everyone experiences mood swings from time to time, but people with bipolar experience them more severely and they can last for weeks at a time.

There are two types of bipolar, the symptoms of which we have listed below. However, bipolar affects everyone differently and shares symptoms with a number of other conditions, which means it can be hard to diagnose.

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Symptoms of bipolar

Bipolar UK recommends keeping track of your mood to help with diagnosis if you’re having problems with mood swings. It has a downloadable mood diary and mood scale on its website.

The symptoms of bipolar 1 can include:

  • Mania:
    • Euphoria
    • Extreme hyperactivity
    • Losing social inhibitions (acting out of character)
    • Excessive spending
    • Felling adventurous
    • Talking a lot or speaking very quickly
    • Sleeping or eating less
    • Becoming easily distracted
    • Substance misuse
    • Feeling like you are untouchable or understand things that others don’t
  • Bouts of mild depression (see below for depression symptoms)

The symptoms of bipolar 2 can include:

  • Depression
    • Feeling low or tearful
    • Fatigue or loss of energy
    • Feeling guilty or worthless
    • Loss of motivation
    • Trouble getting to sleep or disturbed sleep
    • Irregular eating (too much or too little)
    • Unexplained aches and pains
    • You can find out more about the symptoms in our article on depression.
  • Hypomania
    • Feeling euphoric
    • Having lots of energy
    • Feeling irritable
    • Becoming more sociable
    • Finding it hard to stay still
    • Heightened senses e.g. colours seem brighter
    • Feeling creative and full of ideas

It is also possible to have mixed episodes of depression and mania or hypomania. For example, you may feel low and full of energy at the same time.

Additionally, some people may experience psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations or delusions (e.g. paranoia).

What can I do if I think I have bipolar?

If you think you have bipolar and it’s affecting your life, it’s important to seek help.

The first step is to approach your GP and let them know how you’re feeling. If they think you may have bipolar, they will then refer you to a specialist who will be able offer a diagnosis and arrange the appropriate treatment. Your GP may also test you for physical health problems, such as thyroid issues, which can cause symptoms like mania.

Because of the nature of bipolar and how long mood changes can last for, it can take a long time to receive a diagnosis but the earlier you start talking to your GP the better.

You can find out more about diagnosis on the NHS website.

What treatments are used for bipolar?

Bipolar is normally treated using a combination of different methods, including medication and talking therapies.

You can find lots of information about treatment through Mind and the NHS.

Living with bipolar

Although bipolar is a long-term condition, there are things you can do to help manage it. For example:

  • Keep a mood diary and get to know what triggers lows and highs.
  • Learn your warning signs so that you know when an episode is coming on (this gives you a chance to put support in place).
  • Look after your physical wellbeing. You can find tips for taking care of yourself here.
  • Build a support network of friends and family whom you can talk to and who can give support when you need it. Peer support can also be helpful for this (see below).
  • Some people also find it helpful to establish a routine. This can help to keep you motivated during a low episode.
  • Try to keep your stress levels as low as possible. Read our tips for reducing stress here.
  • You can find more information on caring for your mental wellbeing on our blog and Rethink’s free online guide to staying well with bipolar.

You may also find it helpful to join a peer group, where you can meet other people who are facing the same challenges or chat to them online. For example:

More information

Our website also offers advice on depressiontalking about your mental health and boosting your confidence. You can find various blogs and advice sheets on a range of topics on our financialmentalphysical and social wellbeing pages.

For more information on bipolar, the following websites have lots of advice:

We’re here

If you’re worried about your mental health, you can pick up the phone and call Ben’s confidential helpline on 08081 311 333 or use our online chat. It’s completely free to get in touch with us if you work (or have worked) in the automotive industry, or you are dependent on someone who is.

You can find out what happens when you call us here.


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