A Quick Overview of Bipolar Disorder


The following is a quick overview of and topical guide to bipolar disorder (you can find a detailed article on Bipolar Disorder here and an Overview of Bipolar Disorder in Children here).

Bipolar disorder is characterised by episodes of depression and mania.

Bipolar disorder is a mental disorder with periods of depression and periods of elevated mood. The elevated mood is significant and is known as mania or hypomania, depending on its severity, or whether symptoms of psychosis are present. During mania, an individual behaves or feels abnormally energetic, happy, or irritable. Individuals often make poorly thought out decisions with little regard to the consequences. The need for sleep is usually reduced during manic phases. During periods of depression, there may be crying, a negative outlook on life, and poor eye contact with others. The risk of suicide among those with the illness is high at greater than 6% over 20 years, while self-harm occurs in 30-40%. Other mental health issues such as anxiety disorders and substance use disorder are commonly associated. Also known as manic depression.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder can be described as all of the following:

  • Mental disorder.
  • Functional abnormality or disturbance characterised by a behavioural or mental pattern that may cause suffering or a poor ability to function in life.
  • Such features may be persistent, relapsing and remitting, or occur as a single episode.

You can find an overview of the Biology of Bipolar Disorder here.

Bipolar Spectrum

Bipolar IBipolar disorder with at least one manic episode (with or without psychosis), possibly with hypomanic and/or depressive episodes as well.
Bipolar IIbipolar disorder with at least one depressive and at least one hypomanic episode, without any full mania.
Cyclothymia“Mild” bipolar disorder, with symptoms of hypomania and depression not severe enough to be classified as bipolar I or II.
DysthymiaAkin to depression, with symptoms that are long-lasting but less severe.
Major Depressive DisorderA mood disorder involving low mood, low energy, poor self-esteem, lack of interest in enjoyable activities, and/or aches and pains.
Schizoaffective DisorderMood swings combined with psychosis; has subtypes bipolar type and depressive type.
ManiaA state of hyperactivity, heightened mood (euphoric or irritable), low sleep, pressured speech, grandiosity, and/or racing thoughts; may include psychotic features like delusions or hallucinations.
Mixed Affective StateA state with traits of both mania and depression (e.g. irritability, low mood, suicidality, and racing thoughts at the same time).
HypomaniaA state of high mood similar to that of mania but less severe.
Major Depressive EpisodeAn episode with signs of major depressive disorder.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

  • General:
    • Anxiety: A state of increased stress and worry.
    • Emotional dysregulation: Difficulty regulating one’s mood, resulting in mood swings.
    • Sleep disorder: Disordered sleeping habits.
  • Signs Typical of Mania:
    • Delusion: Fixed belief that cannot be changed despite reason or evidence, not explained by common cultural beliefs.
    • Hallucination: Perceiving something that is not actually present.
    • Insomnia: Difficulty falling and/or staying asleep.
    • Pressured speech: Rapid, erratic, and/or frenzied speech that can be difficult for others to understand and interrupt.
    • Psychosis: Inability to distinguish between reality and fantasy.
    • Racing thoughts: Rapid thinking, sometimes experienced as distracting or distressing.
  • Signs Typical of Depression:
    • Anhedonia: Reduced ability to experience pleasure.
    • Dysphoria: A state of profound unhappiness or discomfort.
    • Hypersomnia: Excessive sleeping and/or sleepiness.
    • Self harm: Causing intentional pain or injury to the body, often as self-punishment or emotional release.
    • Suicidal ideation: Considering committing suicide.

Treatment of Bipolar Disorder


  • Mood stabilisers: medication that reduces mood swings and allows the user to experience a more typical range of moods.
  • Anticonvulsants.
  • Carbamazepine.
  • Gabapentin.
  • Lamotrigine (Lamictal).
  • Oxcarbazepine.
  • Topiramate.
  • Valproic acid.
  • Sodium valproate.
  • Valproate semisodium.
  • Lithium pharmacology.
  • Lithium carbonate.
  • Lithium citrate.
  • Lithium sulfate.
  • Antipsychotics.
  • Alprazolam (Solanax and Xanax).
  • Benzodiazepines.

Non-Pharmaceutical Treatment of Bipolar Disorder

  • Clinical psychology.
  • Electroconvulsive therapy.
  • Involuntary commitment.
  • Light therapy.
  • Psychotherapy.
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation.

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