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Bipolar Disorder

What is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar is a mood disorder, where people experience extreme mood swings. (It used to be called manic depression.) Although everybody experiences changes in mood people with bipolar experience them much more severely, so that they effect their everyday lives. People with bipolar disorder usually experience periods of extreme highs (called mania or hypomania) and extreme lows (called depression).

Different types of bipolar disorder

  • Bipolar I – people with bipolar I experience long periods of mania (at least a week) and depression, and may experience psychotic episodes.
  • Bipolar II– people with bipolar II experience less extreme highs (called hypomania) that last a few hours or days. They usually also experience periods of depression, but may have periods where their mood is relatively normal.
  • Cyclothymic disorder – people with cyclothymic disorder experience milder moods than people with other bipolar disorders.
  • Bipolar disorder otherwise not specified – this is a type of bipolar that doesn’t fit in to the other three categories of bipolar. Everyone’s experiences of bipolar are different so some people’s symptoms may not fit strictly into any one type.

What is a manic episode or hypomanic episode?

Someone having a manic episode is experiencing an extreme high that lasts at least a week. Symptoms of a manic episode include:

  • feeling euphoric or high
  • having more energy than usual
  • not needing as much sleep as normal
  • feeling irritable
  • racing thoughts
  • having lots of projects or plans
  • feeling uninhibited (doing things they normally wouldn’t feel comfortable doing)
  • risk-taking behaviour (like having unprotected sex, gambling or speeding)
  • thinking they have special powers or talents
  • psychosis (not being in touch with reality, confused or delusional ideas or thoughts or having hallucinations.)

A hypomanic episode is less severe and may not last as long as a manic episode. Someone experiencing a hypomanic episode will experience the same symptoms but milder, although they won’t experience psychosis. They may still be able to go about their everyday life during the episode.

Having a manic episode can be really scary and confusing, if you think you or someone you know is having a manic episode you can call Lifeline for help and support. Sometimes someone having a manic episode will feel really good, and won’t want to get help. Tell an adult you trust if this is happening to someone you know, they’ll be able to help you get the support your friend or family member needs.

You can find more info about bipolar disorder at Headspace and Reach Out.

What is a depressive episode?

Someone having a depressive episode is experiencing an extreme low that will last at least two weeks. Symptoms of a depressive episode include:

  • feeling sad
  • crying
  • feeling irritable
  • losing interest in things they normally enjoy
  • having no energy or motivation to do things
  • having trouble sleeping or sleeping much more than normal
  • changes in appetite (eating more than usual or eating less than usual)
  • feeling hopeless or worthless
  • having trouble concentrating or remembering things
  • having thoughts of suicide or self harm

If you or someone close to you is having a depressive episode, or considering self harm or suicide, you can call Lifeline for help and support.

Where can I get help?

If you think you or someone you know might be experiencing bipolar disorder, it’s important to get help from a mental health professional. You can visit your GP, local community health centre or your nearest headspace centre. You can also call Lifeline or get online counselling at eheadspace.

Bipolar disorder can be treated, usually with a mix of medication and psychological treatment, so that you or your friend or family member can keep on doing the things they normally do.

Click here for a list of Support Services.