Raising Bipolar (2010)


Raising Bipolar follows four families raising children diagnosed with bipolar disorder.


Follow 4 families raising children diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder:

  • A single mother whose son, 7 year-old Chase, has been hospitalised 6 times for a total of over 150 days;
  • A grandmother raising 4 kids diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder;
  • A little girl, Samantha, who was diagnosed at age 3; and
  • Kelsey, a courageous pre-teen who heroically manages her moods, even as she faces the intensifying social pressures in school.

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s):
    • Ben Howard.
  • Producer(s):
    • Eric Schotz.
    • Ruth Rivin.
  • Writer(s):
  • Music:
  • Cinematography:
  • Editor(s):
  • Production:
    • Janson Media.
    • LMNO Cable Group.
  • Distributor(s):
    • Discovery Health Channel (US).
  • Release Date: 2010.
  • Running Time: 48 minutes (without adverts), 60 minutes with adverts.
  • Rating: Unknown.
  • Country: US.
  • Language: English.

Currently awaiting.

An Overview of the Treatment of Bipolar Disorder


The emphasis of the treatment of bipolar disorder is on effective management of the long-term course of the illness, which can involve treatment of emergent symptoms.

Treatment methods include pharmacological and psychological techniques.


The primary treatment for bipolar disorder consists of medications called mood stabilisers, which are used to prevent or control episodes of mania or depression. Medications from several classes have mood stabilising activity. Many individuals may require a combination of medication to achieve full remission of symptoms. As it is impossible to predict which medication will work best for a particular individual, it may take some trial and error to find the best medication or combination for a specific patient. Psychotherapy also has a role in the treatment of bipolar disorder. The goal of treatment is not to cure the disorder but rather to control the symptoms and the course of the disorder. Generally speaking, maintenance treatment of bipolar disorder continues long after symptom control has been achieved.

Following diagnostic evaluation, the treating clinician must determine the optimal treatment setting in order to ensure the patient’s safety. Assessment of suicide risk is key, as the rate of suicide completion among those with bipolar disorder may be as high as 10-15%. Hospitalisation should be considered in patients whose judgement is significantly impaired by their illness, and those who have not responded to outpatient treatment; this may need to be done on an involuntary basis. Treatment setting should regularly be re-evaluated to ensure that it is optimal for the patient’s needs.

Mood Stabilisers

Lithium Salts

Lithium salts have been used for centuries as a first-line treatment for bipolar disorder. In ancient times, doctors would send their mentally ill patients to drink from “alkali springs” as a treatment. Although they were not aware of it, they were actually prescribing lithium, which was present in high concentration within the waters. The therapeutic effect of lithium salts appears to be entirely due to the lithium ion, Li+.

Its exact mechanism of action is uncertain, although there are several possibilities such as inhibition of inositol monophosphatase, modulation of G proteins or regulation of gene expression for growth factors and neuronal plasticity. There is strong evidence for its effectiveness in acute treatment and prevention of recurrence of mania. It can also be effective in bipolar depression, although the evidence is not as strong. It is also effective in reducing the risk of suicide in patients with mood disorders.

Potential side effects from lithium include gastrointestinal upset, tremor, sedation, excessive thirst, frequent urination, cognitive problems, impaired motor coordination, hair loss, and acne. Excessive levels of lithium can be harmful to the kidneys, and increase the risk of side effects in general. As a result, kidney function and blood levels of lithium are monitored in patients being treated with lithium. Therapeutic plasma levels of lithium range from 0.5 to 1.5 mEq/L, with levels of 0.8 or higher being desirable in acute mania.

Lithium levels should be above 0.6 mEq/L to reduce both manic and depressive episodes in patients. A recent review concludes that the standard lithium serum level should be 0.60-0.80 mmol/L with optional reduction to 0.40-0.60 mmol/L in case of good response but poor tolerance or an increase to 0.80-1.00 mmol/L in case of insufficient response and good tolerance.

Monitoring is generally more frequent when lithium is being initiated, and the frequency can be decreased once a patient is stabilised on a given dose. Thyroid hormones should also be monitored periodically, as lithium can increase the risk of hypothyroidism.


A number of anti-convulsant drugs are used as mood stabilisers, and the suspected mechanism is related to the theory that mania can “kindle” further mania, similar to the kindling model of seizures. Valproic acid, or valproate, was one of the first anti-convulsants tested for use in bipolar disorder. It has proven to be effective for treating acute mania. The mania prevention and antidepressant effects of valproic acid have not been well demonstrated. Valproic acid is less effective than lithium at preventing and treating depressive episodes.

Carbamazepine was the first anti-convulsant shown to be effective for treating bipolar mania. It has not been extensively studied in bipolar depression. It is generally considered a second-line agent due to its side effect profile. Lamotrigine is considered a first-line agent for the treatment of bipolar depression. It is effective in preventing the recurrence of both mania and depression, but it has not proved useful in treating acute mania.

Zonisamide (trade name Zonegran), another anti-convulsant, also may show promise in treating bipolar depression. Various other anti-convulsants have been tested in bipolar disorder, but there is little evidence of their effectiveness. Other anti-convulsants effective in some cases and being studied closer include phenytoin, levetiracetam, pregabalin and valnoctamide.

Each anti-convulsant agent has a unique side-effect profile. Valproic acid can frequently cause sedation or gastrointestinal upset, which can be minimised by giving the related drug divalproex, which is available in an enteric-coated tablet. These side effects tend to disappear over time. According to studies conducted in Finland in patients with epilepsy, valproate may increase testosterone levels in teenage girls and produce polycystic ovary syndrome in women who began taking the medication before age 20. Increased testosterone can lead to polycystic ovary syndrome with irregular or absent menses, obesity, and abnormal growth of hair. Therefore, young female patients taking valproate should be monitored carefully by a physician. Excessive levels of valproate can lead to impaired liver function, and liver enzymes and serum valproate level, with a target of 50–125 µg/L, should be monitored periodically.

Side effects of carbamazepine include blurred vision, double vision, ataxia, weight gain, nausea, and fatigue, as well as some rare but serious side effects such as blood dyscrasias, pancreatitis, exfoliative dermatitis, and hepatic failure. Monitoring of liver enzymes, platelets, and blood cell counts are recommended.

Lamotrigine generally has minimal side effects, but the dose must be increased slowly to avoid rashes, including exfoliative dermatitis.

Atypical Antipsychotic Drugs

Antipsychotics work best in the manic phase of bipolar disorder. Second-generation or atypical antipsychotics (including aripiprazole, olanzapine, quetiapine, paliperidone, risperidone, and ziprasidone) have emerged as effective mood stabilisers. The evidence for this is fairly recent, as in 2003 the American Psychiatric Press noted that atypical anti-psychotics should be used as adjuncts to other anti-manic drugs because their mood stabilising properties had not been well established. The mechanism is not well known, but may be related to effects on glutamate activity. Several studies have shown atypical antipsychotics to be effective both as single-agent and adjunctive treatments. Antidepressant effectiveness varies, which may be related to different serotonergic and dopaminergic receptor binding profiles. Quetiapine and the combination of olanzapine and fluoxetine have both demonstrated effectiveness in bipolar depression.

In light of recent evidence, olanzapine (Zyprexa) has been US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved as an effective monotherapy for the maintenance of bipolar disorder. A head-to-head randomised control trial (RCT) in 2005 has also shown olanzapine monotherapy to be just as effective and safe as lithium in prophylaxis.

The atypical antipsychotics differ somewhat in side effect profiles, but most have some risk of sedation, weight gain, and extrapyramidal symptoms (including tremor, stiffness, and restlessness). They may also increase the risk of metabolic syndrome, so metabolic monitoring should be performed regularly, including checks of serum cholesterol, triglycerides, and glucose, weight, blood pressure, and waist circumference. Taking antipsychotics for long periods or at high doses can also cause tardive dyskinesia – a sometimes incurable neurological disorder resulting in involuntary, repetitive body movements. The risk of tardive dyskinesia appears to be lower in second-generation antipsychotics than in first-generation antipsychotics but as with first-generation drugs, increases with time spent on medications and in older patients.

New Treatments

A variety of other agents have been tried in bipolar disorder, including benzodiazepines, calcium channel blockers, L-methylfolate, and thyroid hormone. Modafinil (Provigil) and Pramipexole (Mirapex) have been suggested for treating cognitive dysfunction associated with bipolar depression, but evidence supporting their use is quite limited. In addition riluzole, a glutamatergic drug used in ALS has been studied as an adjunct or monotherapy treatment in bipolar depression, with mixed and inconsistent results. The selective oestrogen receptor modulator medication tamoxifen has shown rapid and robust efficacy treating acute mania in bipolar patients. This action is likely due not to tamoxifen’s oestrogen-modulating properties, but due to its secondary action as an inhibitor of protein Kinase C.

Cognitive Effects of Mood Stabilisers

Bipolar patients taking antipsychotics have lower scores on tests of memory and full-scale IQ than patients taking other mood stabilisers. Use of both typical and atypical antipsychotics is associated with risk of cognitive impairment, but the risk is higher for antipsychotics with more sedating effects.

Among bipolar patients taking anticonvulsants, those on lamotrigine have a better cognitive profile than those on carbamazepine, valproate, topiramate, and zonisamide.

Although decreased verbal memory and slowed psychomotor speed are common side effects of lithium use these side effects usually disappear after discontinuation of lithium. Lithium may be protective of cognitive function in the long term since it promotes neurogenesis in the hippocampus and increases grey matter volume in the prefrontal cortex.


Antidepressants should only be used with caution in bipolar disorder, as they may not be effective and may even induce mania. They should not be used alone, but may be considered as an adjunct to lithium.

A recent large-scale study found that severe depression in patients with bipolar disorder responds no better to a combination of antidepressant medications and mood stabilisers than it does to mood stabilisers alone and that antidepressant use does not hasten the emergence of manic symptoms in patients with bipolar disorder.

The concurrent use of an antidepressant and a mood stabiliser, instead of mood stabiliser monotherapy, may lower the risk of further bipolar depressive episodes in patients whose most recent depressive episode has been resolved. However, some studies have also found that antidepressants pose a risk of inducing hypomania or mania, sometimes in individuals with no prior history of mania. Saint John’s Wort, although a naturally occurring compound, is thought to function in a fashion similar to man-made antidepressants, and so unsurprisingly, there are reports that suggest that it can also induce mania. For these reasons, some psychiatrists are hesitant to prescribe antidepressants for the treatment of bipolar disorder unless mood stabilisers have failed to have an effect, however, others feel that antidepressants still have an important role to play in treatment of bipolar disorder.

Side effects vary greatly among different classes of antidepressants.

Antidepressants are helpful in preventing suicides in people suffering from bipolar disorder when they go in for the depressive phase.

NMDA-Receptor Antagonists

In a double-blind, placebo-controlled, proof-of-concept study, researchers administered an N-methyl-d-aspartate-receptor antagonist (ketamine) to 18 patients already on treatment with lithium (10 patients) or valproate (8 patients) for bipolar depression. From 40 minutes following intravenous injection of ketamine hydrochloride (0.5 mg/kg), the researchers observed significant improvements in depressive symptoms, as measured by standard tools, that were maintained for up to 3 days, an effect not observed in subjects who received the placebo. Five subjects dropped out of the ketamine study; of these, four were taking valproate and one was being treated with lithium. One patient showed signs of hypomania following ketamine administration and two experienced low mood. This study demonstrates a rapid-onset antidepressant effect of ketamine in a small group of patients with bipolar depression. The authors acknowledged the study’s limitations, including the dissociative disturbances in patients receiving ketamine that could have compromised the study blinding, and they emphasised the need for further research.

A more recent double-blind, placebo-controlled study by the same group found that ketamine treatment resulted in a similarly rapid alleviation of suicidal ideation in 15 patients with bipolar depression.

Ketamine is used as a dissociative anaesthetic, and is a Class C substance in the United Kingdom; as such, it should only be used under the direction of a health professional.

Dopamine Agonists

In a single controlled study of twenty one patients, the dopamine D3 receptor agonist pramipexole was found to be highly effective in the treatment of bipolar depression. Treatment was initiated at 0.125 mg t.i.d. and increased at a rate of 0.125 mg t.i.d. to a limit of 4.5 mg qd until the patients’ condition satisfactorily responded to the medication or they could not abide the side effects. The final average dosage was 1.7 mg ± .90 mg qd. The incidence of hypomania in the treatment group was no greater than in the control group.


Certain types of psychotherapy, used in combination with medication, may provide some benefit in the treatment of bipolar disorders. Psychoeducation has been shown to be effective in improving patients’ compliance with their lithium treatment. Evidence of the efficacy of family therapy is not adequate to support unrestricted recommendation of its use. There is “fair support” for the utility of cognitive therapy. Evidence for the efficacy of other psychotherapies is absent or weak, often not being performed under randomised and controlled conditions. Well-designed studies have found interpersonal and social rhythm therapy to be effective.

Although medication and psychotherapy cannot cure the illness, therapy can often be valuable in helping to address the effects of disruptive manic or depressive episodes that have hurt a patient’s career, relationships or self-esteem. Therapy is available not only from psychiatrists but from social workers, psychologists and other licensed counsellors.

Jungian Therapy

Jungian authors have likened the mania and depression of bipolar disorder to the Jungian archetypes ‘puer’ and ‘senex’. The puer archetype is defined by the behaviours of spontaneity, impulsiveness, enthusiasm or mania and is symbolised by characters such as Peter Pan or the Greek god Hermes. The senex archetype is defined by behaviours of order, systematic thought, caution, and depression and is symbolised by characters such as the Roman god Saturn or the Greek god Kronos. Jungians conceptualise the puer and senex as a coexistent bipolarity appearing in human behaviour and imagination, but in neurotic manifestations appears as extreme oscillations and as unipolar manifestations. In the case of the split puer-senex bipolarity the therapeutic task is to bring the puer and senex back into correlation by working with the patient’s mental imagery.”

Lifestyle Changes

Sufficient Sleep

If sleeping is disturbed, the symptoms can occur. Sleep disruption may actually exacerbate the mental illness state. Those who do not get enough sleep at night, sleep late and wake up late, or go to sleep with some disturbance (e.g. music or charging devices) have a greater chance of having the symptoms and, in addition, depression. It is highly advised to not sleep too late and to get enough high quality sleep.

Self-Management and Self-Awareness

Understanding the symptoms, when they occur and ways to control them using appropriate medications and psychotherapy has given many people diagnosed with bipolar disorder a chance at a better life. Prodrome symptom detection has been shown to be used effectively to anticipate onset of manic episodes and requires high degree of understanding of one’s illness. Because the offset of the symptoms is often gradual, recognising even subtle mood changes and activity levels is important in avoiding a relapse. Maintaining a mood chart is a specific method used by patients and doctors to identify mood, environmental and activity triggers.

Stress Reduction

Forms of stress may include having too much to do, too much complexity and conflicting demands among others. There are also stresses that come from the absence of elements such as human contact, a sense of achievement, constructive creative outlets, and occasions or circumstances that will naturally elicit positive emotions. Stress reduction will involve reducing things that cause anxiety and increasing those that generate happiness. It is not enough to just reduce the anxiety.

Co-Morbid Substance Use Disorder

Co-occurring substance misuse disorders, which are extremely common in bipolar patients can cause a significant worsening of bipolar symptomatology and can cause the emergence of affective symptoms. The treatment options and recommendations for substance use disorders is wide but may include certain pharmacological and nonpharmacological treatment options.

Other Treatments

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids may also be used as a treatment for bipolar disorder, particularly as a supplement to medication. An initial clinical trial by Stoll et al. (1999) produced positive results. However, since 1999 attempts to confirm this finding of beneficial effects of omega-3 fatty acids in several larger double-blind clinical trials have produced inconclusive results. It was hypothesized that the therapeutic ingredient in omega-3 fatty acid preparations is eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and that supplements should be high in this compound to be beneficial. A 2008 Cochrane systematic review found limited evidence to support the use of Omega-3 fatty acids to improve depression but not mania as an adjunct treatment for bipolar disorder.

Omega-3 fatty acids may be found in fish, fish oils, algae, and to a lesser degree in other foods such as flaxseed, flaxseed oil and walnuts. Although the benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids remain debated, they are readily available at drugstores and supermarkets, relatively inexpensive, and have few known side effects (All of these oils, however, have the capacity to exacerbate GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) – food sources may be a good alternative in such cases).


Exercise has also been shown to have antidepressant effects.

Electroconvulsive Therapy

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) may have some effectiveness in mixed mania states, and good effectiveness in bipolar depression, particularly in the presence of psychosis. It may also be useful in the treatment of severe mania that is non-responsive to medications.

The most frequent side effects of ECT include memory impairment, headaches, and muscle aches. In some instances, ECT can produce significant and long-lasting cognitive impairment, including anterograde amnesia, and retrograde amnesia.

Ketogenic Diet

Because many of the medications that are effective in treating epilepsy are also effective as mood stabilizers, it has been suggested that the ketogenic diet – used for treating paediatric epilepsy – could have mood stabilising effects. Ketogenic diets are diets that are high in fat and low in carbohydrates, and force the body to use fat for energy instead of sugars from carbohydrates. This causes a metabolic response similar to that seen in the body during fasting. This idea has not been tested by clinical research, and until recently, was entirely hypothetical. Recently, however, two case studies have been described where ketogenic diets were used to treat bipolar II. In each case, the patients found that the ketogenic diet was more effective for treating their disorder than medication and were able to discontinue the use of medication. The key to efficacy appears to be ketosis (a metabolic state characterised by elevated levels of ketone bodies in the blood or urine), which can be achieved either with a classic high-fat ketogenic diet, or with a low-carbohydrate diet similar to the induction phase of the Atkins Diet. The mechanism of action is not well understood. It is unclear whether the benefits of the diet produce a lasting improvement in symptoms (as is sometimes the case in treatment for epilepsy) or whether the diet would need to be continued indefinitely to maintain symptom remission.

The Role of Cannabinoids

Acute cannabis intoxication transiently produces perceptual distortions, psychotic symptoms and reduction in cognitive abilities in healthy persons and in severe mental disorder, and may impair the ability to safely operate a motor vehicle.

Cannabis use is common in bipolar disorder, and is a risk factor for a more severe course of the disease by increasing frequency and duration of episodes. It is also reported to reduce age at onset.

Alternative Medicine

Several studies have suggested that omega-3 fatty acids may have beneficial effects on depressive symptoms, but not manic symptoms. However, only a few small studies of variable quality have been published and there is not enough evidence to draw any firm conclusions.

What is the Hypomania Checklist?


The Hypomania Checklist (HCL-32) is a questionnaire developed by Dr. Jules Angst to identify hypomanic features in patients with major depressive disorder in order to help recognise bipolar II disorder and other bipolar spectrum disorders when people seek help in primary care and other general medical settings.

It asks about 32 behaviours and mental states that are either aspects of hypomania or features associated with mood disorders. It uses short phrases and simple language, making it easy to read. The University of Zurich holds the copyright, and the HCL-32 is available for use at no charge. More recent work has focused on validating translations and testing whether shorter versions still perform well enough to be helpful clinically. Recent meta-analyses find that it is one of the most accurate assessments available for detecting hypomania, doing better than other options at recognising bipolar II disorder.

Development and Brief History

The Hypomania Checklist was built as a more efficient screening measure for hypomania, to be used both in epidemiological research and in clinical use. Existing measures for bipolar disorder focused on identifying personality factors and symptom severity instead of the episodic nature of hypomania or the possible negative consequences in behavioural, affective, or cognitive changes associated. These measures were mostly used in non-clinical populations to identify individuals at risk and were not used as screening instruments. The HCL-32 is a measure intended to have high sensitivity to direct clinicians from many countries to diagnosing individuals in a clinical population with bipolar disorder, specifically bipolar II disorder.

Initially developed by Jules Angst and Thomas Meyer in German, the questionnaire was translated into English and translated back to German to ensure accuracy. The English version of the HCL has been used as the basis for translation in other languages through the same process. The original study that used the HCL in an Italian and a Swiss sample noted the measure’s high sensitivity and a lower sensitivity than other used measures.

The scale includes a checklist of 32 possible symptoms of hypomania, each rated yes or no. The rating “yes” would mean the symptom is present or this trait is “typical of me,” and “no” would mean that the symptom is not present or “not typical” for the person.


The HCL suffers from the same problems as other self-report inventories, in that scores can be easily exaggerated or minimised by the person completing them. Like all questionnaires, the way the instrument is administered can influence the final score. If a patient is asked to fill out the form in front of other people in a clinical environment, for instance, social expectations may elicit a different response compared to administration via a postal survey.

Similar reliability scores were found when only using 16 item assessments versus the traditional 32-item format of the HCL-32. A score of at least 8 items was found valid and reliable for distinguishing Bipolar Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder. In a study, 73% of patients who completed the HCL-32 R1 were true bipolar cases identified as potential bipolar cases. However, the HCL-32 R1 does not accurately differentiate between Bipolar I and Bipolar II. However, the 16-item HCL has not been tested as a standalone section in a hospital setting. In addition, while the HCL-32 is a sensitive instrument for hypomanic symptoms, it does not distinguish between bipolar I and bipolar-II disorders. The HCL-32 has not been compared with other commonly used screening tools for bipolar disorder, such as the Young Mania Rating Scale (YMRS)and the General Behaviour Inventory (GBI). The online version of the HCL has been shown to be as reliable as the paper version.

An Overview of Bipolar Disorder in Children


Bipolar disorder in children, or paediatric bipolar disorder (PBD), is a controversial mental disorder in children and adolescents that is mainly diagnosed in the United States, and is hypothesized to be like bipolar disorder (BD) in adults, thus is proposed as an explanation for extreme changes in mood and behaviour accompanying periods of depressed or irritable moods and periods of elevated moods so called manic or hypomanic episodes.

These shifts are sometimes quick, but usually are gradual. The average age of onset of paediatric bipolar disorder is unclear, but the risk increases with the onset of puberty. Bipolar disorder is rare in childhood. Paediatric bipolar disorder is typically more severe and has a poorer prognosis than bipolar disorder with onset in late-adolescence or adulthood.

The DSM has specified that the criteria for bipolar disorder can be applied to children since 1980. However, the exact criteria for diagnosing paediatric bipolar disorder remains controversial and heavily debated. There are big differences in how commonly it is diagnosed across clinics and in different countries. There has been a rapid increase in research on the topic, but training and clinical practice lag behind.

Identifying bipolar disorder in youth is challenging. Children often exhibit chronic rather than episodic mania periods. Almost always, these chronic problems have causes other than bipolar disorder. The criteria for paediatric bipolar disorder can also often be masked by developmental differences. Comorbid disorders make determining what symptoms are signs of bipolar disorder and which are due to other disorders (e.g. OCD, ADHD, disruptive behaviour problems) difficult, leading to complications in treatment. For example, a common treatment for OCD are serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SRIs), however, SRIs can lead to mood instability and worsening bipolar disorder.[5] The most common misdiagnosis for ADHD in the USA is paediatric bipolar disorder due to hyperactivity being described as prolonged periods of mania. Empirical research conducted in 2004 found that “bipolar disorder (in preadolescence) was initially misdiagnosed in 12 out of 24 youths” (Mahoney, 2004). This is a dangerous misdiagnosis due to the vastly different treatment forms. Firstly, ADHD does not require mood stabilisers like paediatric bipolar disorder. Secondly, the stimulants given to treat ADHD have been shown to cause psychosis and exacerbate mania in paediatric bipolar disorder (Wendling, 2009). This misuse of medication can lead to mood episodes, suicidality, and hospitalisation.

Brief History

Descriptions of children with symptoms similar to contemporary concepts of mania date back to the 18th century. In 1898, a detailed psychiatric case history was published about a 13-year-old that met Jean-Pierre Falret and Jules Baillarger’s criteria for folie circulaire, which is congruent to the modern conception of bipolar I disorder.

In Emil Kraepelin’s descriptions of bipolar disorder in the 1920s, which he called “manic depressive insanity”, he noted the rare possibility that it could occur in children. In addition to Kraepelin, Adolf Meyer, Karl Abraham, and Melanie Klein were some of the first to document bipolar disorder symptoms in children in the first half of the 20th century. It was not mentioned much in English literature until the 1970s when interest in researching the subject increased. It became more accepted as a diagnosis in children in the 1980s after the DSM-III (1980) specified that the same criteria for diagnosing bipolar disorder in adults could also be applied to children.

Recognition came twenty years after, with epidemiological studies showing that approximately 20% of adults with bipolar disorder already had symptoms in childhood or adolescence. Nevertheless, onset before age 10 was thought to be rare, below 0.5% of the cases. During the second half of the century misdiagnosis with schizophrenia was not rare in the non-adult population due to common co-occurrence of psychosis and mania, this issue diminishing with an increased following of the DSM criteria in the last part of the 20th century.


The prevalence of bipolar in youth is estimated at 2%.


Diagnosis is made based on a clinical interview by a psychiatrist or other licensed mental health practitioner. There are no blood tests or brain scans to diagnose bipolar disorder. Obtaining information on family history and the use of questionnaires and checklists are helpful in making an accurate diagnosis. Commonly used assessment tools include the:

Signs and Symptoms

In both the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-5 and the World Health Organisation’s ICD-10, the same criteria used to diagnose bipolar disorder in adults are used to make the diagnosis in children with some adjustments to account for differences in age and developmental stage. For example, the DSM-5 specifies that in children, depressive episodes can manifest as persistently irritable moods.

In diagnosing manic episodes, it is important to compare the changes in mood and behaviour to the child’s normal mood and behaviours at baseline instead of to other children or adults. For example, grandiosity (i.e. unrealistic overestimation of one’s intelligence, talent, or abilities) is normal at varying degrees during childhood and adolescence. Therefore, grandiosity is only considered symptomatic of mania in children when the beliefs are held despite being presented with concrete evidence otherwise or when they lead to a child attempting activities that are clearly dangerous, and most importantly, when the grandiose beliefs are an obvious change from that particular child’s normal self-view in between episodes.


The diagnosis of childhood bipolar disorder is controversial, although it is recognised that bipolar disorder typical symptoms are dysfunctional and have negative consequences for minors suffering them. Main discussion is centred on whether what is called bipolar disorder in children refers to the same disorder than when diagnosing adults, and the related question on whether adults’ criteria for diagnosis are useful and accurate when applied to children. More specifically, main discussion over diagnosis in children circles around mania symptomatology and its differences between children and adults.

Diagnostic criteria may not correctly separate children with bipolar disorder from other problems such as ADHD, and emphasize fast mood cycles.


Medications can produce important side effects, so interventions have been recommended to be closely monitored and families of patients to be informed of the different possible problems that can arise. Atypical antipsychotics are more effective than mood stabilizers, but have more side effects. Typical antipsychotics may produce weight gains as well as other metabolic problems, including diabetes mellitus type 2 and hyperlipidaemia. Extrapyramidal secondary effects may appear with these medications. These include tardive dyskinesia, a difficult-to-treat movement disorder (dyskinesia) that can appear after long-term use of antipsychotics. Liver and kidney damage are a possibility with mood stabilisers.

Psychological treatment usually includes some combination of education on the disease, group therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Children with bipolar disorder and their families are informed, in ways accordingly to their age and family role, about the different aspects of bipolar disorder and its management including causes, signs and symptoms and treatments. Group therapy aims to improve social skills and manage group conflicts, with role-playing as a critical tool. Finally, cognitive-behavioural training is directed towards the participants having a better understanding and control over their emotions and behaviours.

  • BPD I, manic or mixed, without psychosis:
    • Stage 1: Monotherapy with a mood stabiliser (lithium, Divalproex, or carbamazepine), or atypical antipsychotic (olanzapine, quetiapine, or risperidone).
      • Lithium or Divalproex is recommended for first-line treatment.
      • Partial (minimal to moderate) improvement with monotherapy, augment with another of the first-line recommendations.
    • Stage 2: Monotherapy with an alternative drug, then augmentation.
    • Stage 3: Possible medication combinations – lithium plus Divalproex, lithium plus atypical, or Divalproex plus atypical.
    • Stage 4: Combination of 2-3 mood stabilisers.
    • Stage 5: Alternate monotherapy with oxcarbazepine, ziprasidone, or aripiprazole (all Level D).
    • Stage 6: For nonresponse or intolerable side effects – clozapine for children or adolescents, or electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) for adolescents only.
  • BPD I, manic or mixed, with psychosis:
    • Stage 1: Same as BPD I without psychosis except for first-line treatment warrants a combination of mood stabiliser and an atypical antipsychotic.
    • Stages 2-4: Varying combinations and augmentations.
    • Stage 5: Alternate monotherapy (oxcarbazepine) plus an atypical antipsychotic.


Chronic medication is often needed, with relapses of individuals reaching rates over 90% in those not following medication indications and almost to 40% in those complying with medication regimens in some studies. Compared to adults, a juvenile onset has in general a similar or worse course, although age of onset predicts the duration of the episodes more than the prognosis. A risk factor for a worse outcome is the existence of additional (comorbid) pathologies.

Children with bipolar disorder are more likely to suicide than other children.

An Overview of the Biology of Bipolar Disorder


Bipolar disorder is an affective disorder characterised by periods of elevated and depressed mood.

The cause and mechanism of bipolar disorder is not yet known, and the study of its biological origins is ongoing. Although no single gene causes the disorder, a number of genes are linked to increase risk of the disorder, and various gene environment interactions may play a role in predisposing individuals to developing bipolar disorder. Neuroimaging and post-mortem studies have found abnormalities in a variety of brain regions, and most commonly implicated regions include the ventral prefrontal cortex and amygdala. Dysfunction in emotional circuits located in these regions have been hypothesized as a mechanism for bipolar disorder. A number of lines of evidence suggests abnormalities in neurotransmission, intracellular signalling, and cellular functioning as possibly playing a role in bipolar disorder.

Studies of bipolar disorder, particularly neuroimaging studies, are vulnerable to the confounding effects such as medication, comorbidity, and small sample size, leading to underpowered independent studies, and significant heterogeneity.

Brain imaging studies have revealed differences in the volume of various brain regions between patients with bipolar disorder and healthy control subjects.



The etiology of bipolar disorder is unknown. The overall heritability of bipolar is estimated at 79%-93%, and first degree relatives of bipolar probands have a relative risk of developing bipolar around 7-10. While the heritability is high, no specific genes have been conclusively associated with bipolar, and a number of hypothesis have been posited to explain this fact. “The polygenic common rare variant” hypothesis suggests that a large number of risk conferring genes are carried in a population, and that a disease manifests when a person has a sufficient number of these genes. The “multiple rare variant” model suggests that multiple genes that are rare in the population are capable of causing a disease, and that carrying one or a few can lead to disease. The familial transmission of mania and depression are largely independent of each other. This raises the possibility that bipolar is actually two biologically distinct but highly comorbid conditions.

A number of genome wide associations have been reported, including CACNA1C and ODZ4, and TRANK1. Less consistently reported loci include ANK3 and NCAN, ITIH1, ITIH3 and NEK4. Significant overlaps with schizophrenia have been reported at CACNA1C, ITIH, ANK3, and ZNF804A. This overlap is congruent with the observation that relatives of probands with schizophrenia are at higher risk for bipolar disorder and vice versa.

In light of associations between bipolar and circadian abnormalities (such as decreased need for sleep and increased sleep latency), polymorphisms in the CLOCK gene have been tested for association, although findings have been inconsistent, and one meta analysis has reported no association with either bipolar or major depressive disorder. Other circadian genes associated with bipolar at relaxed significance thresholds include ARTNL, RORB, and DEC1. One meta analysis reported a significant association of the short allele of the serotonin transporter, although the study was specific to European populations. Two polymorphisms in the tryptophan hydroxylase 2 gene have been associated with bipolar disorder. NFIA has been linked with seasonal patterns of mania.

One particular SNP located on CACNA1C that confers risk for bipolar disorder is also associated with elevated CACNA1C mRNA expression in the prefrontal cortex, and increased calcium channel expression in neurons made from patient induced pluripotent stem cells.

No significant association exists for the BDNF Val66Met allele and bipolar disorder, except possibly in a subgroup of bipolar II cases, and suicide.

Due to the inconsistent findings in GWAS, multiple studies have undertaken the approach of analysing SNPs in biological pathways. Signalling pathways traditionally associated with bipolar disorder that have been supported by these studies include CRH signalling, cardiac β-adrenergic signalling, phospholipase C signalling, glutamate receptor signalling, cardiac hypertrophy signalling, Wnt signalling, notch signalling, and endothelin 1 signalling. Of the 16 genes identified in these pathways, three were found to be dysregulated in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex portion of the brain in post-mortem studies, CACNA1C, GNG2, and ITPR2.

Advanced paternal age has been linked to a somewhat increased chance of bipolar disorder in offspring, consistent with a hypothesis of increased new genetic mutations.

A meta-analysis was performed to determine the association between bipolar disorder and oxidative DNA damage measured by 8-hydroxy-2′-8-deoxyguanosine (8-OHdG) or 8-oxo-7,8-dihydro-2′-deoxyguanosine (8-oxodG). Levels of 8-OHdG and 8-oxodG are widely used as measures of oxidative stress in mental illnesses. It was determined from this meta-analysis that oxidative DNA damage was significantly increased in bipolar disorder.


Manic episodes can be produced by sleep deprivation in around 30% of people with bipolar. While not all people with bipolar demonstrate seasonality of affective symptoms, it is a consistently reported feature that supports theories of circadian dysfunction in bipolar.

Risk factors for bipolar include obstetric complications, abuse, drug use, and major life stressors.

The “kindling model” of mood disorders suggests that major environmental stressors trigger initial mood episodes, but as mood episodes occur, weaker and weaker triggers can precipitate an affective episode. This model was initially created for epilepsy, to explain why weaker and weaker electrical stimulation was necessary to elicit a seizure as the disease progressed. While parallels have been drawn between bipolar disorder and epilepsy, supporting the kindling hypothesis, this model is generally not supported by studies directly assessing it in bipolar subjects.

Neurological Disorders

Mania occurs secondary to neurological conditions between a rate of 2% to 30%. Mania is most commonly seen in right sided lesions, lesions that disconnect the prefrontal cortex, or excitatory lesions in the left hemisphere.

Diseases associated with “secondary mania” include Cushing’s disease, dementia, delirium, meningitis, hyperparathyroidism, hypoparathyroidism, thyrotoxicosis, multiple sclerosis, Huntington’s disease, epilepsy, neurosyphilis, HIV dementia, uraemia, as well as traumatic brain injury and vitamin B12 deficiency.


Neurobiological and Neuroanatomical Models

The main loci of neuroimaging and neuropathological findings in bipolar have been proposed to constitute dysfunction in a “visceromotor” network, composed of the mPFC, anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), hippocampus, amygdala, hypothalamus, striatum and thalamus.

A model of functional neuroanatomy produced by a workgroup led by Stephen M. Strakowski concluded that bipolar was characterized by reduced connectivity, due to abnormal pruning or development, in the prefrontal-striatal-pallidal-thalamic-limbic network leading to dysregulated emotional responses. This model was supported by a number of common neuroimaging findings. Dysregulation of limbic structures is evinced by the fact that hyperactivity in the amygdala in response to facial stimuli has been consistently reported in mania. While amygdala hyperactivity is not a uniform finding, a number of methodological challenges could explain discrepancies. As most studies utilize fMRI to measure blood-oxygen-level dependent signal, excess baseline activity could result in null findings due to subtraction analysis. Furthermore, heterogenous study design could mask consistent hyperactivity to specific stimuli. Regardless of directionality of amygdala abnormalities, as the amygdala plays a central role in emotional systems, these findings support dysfunctional emotional circuits in bipolar. A general reduction in ventrolateral prefrontal cortex activity is observed in bipolar, and is lateralised with regard to mood (i.e. left-depression, right-mania), and may underlie amygdala abnormalities. The dorsal ACC is commonly under-activated in bipolar, and is generally implicated in cognitive functions, while the ventral ACC is hyperactived and implicated in emotional functions. Combined, these abnormalities support the prefrontal-striatal-pallidial-thalamic limbic network underlying dysfunction in emotional regulation in bipolar disorder. Strakowski, along with DelBello and Adler have put forward a model of “anterior limbic” dysfunction in bipolar disorder in a number of papers.

In 2007, Green and colleagues suggested a model of bipolar disorder based on the convergence of cognitive and emotional processing on certain structures. For example, the dACC and sgACC were cognitively associated with impairment of inhibition of emotional responses and self monitoring, which could translate to emotional stimuli having excessive impact on mood. Deficits in working memory associated with abnormal dlPFC function could also translate to impaired ability to represent emotional stimuli, and therefore the impaired ability to reappraise emotional stimuli. Dysfunction in the amygdala and striatum has been associated with attentional biases, and may represent a bottom up mechanism of dysfunctional emotional processing.

Blond et al. proposed a model centred on dysfunction in an “amygdala-anterior paralimbic” system. This model was based on the consistent functional and structural abnormalities in the ventral prefrontal cortex and amygdala. The model also proposes a developmental component of bipolar disorder, wherein limbic abnormalities are present early on, but rostral prefrontal abnormalities develop later in the course. The importance of limbic dysfunction early in development is highlighted by the observation that amygdala lesions early in adulthood produce emotional abnormalities that are not present in people who develop amygdala damage in adulthood.

Lateralised seizure sequelae similar to bipolar has been reported in people with mesial temporal lobe seizures, and provides support for kindling hypotheses about bipolar. This observation led to the first experiments with anticonvulsants in bipolar, which are effective in stabilising mood. Studies reporting reduced markers of inhibitory interneurons post-mortem link the analogy with epilepsy to a possible reduction in inhibitory activity in emotional circuits. Overlap with epilepsy extends to include abnormalities in intracellular signalling, biochemistry in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, and structure and function of the amygdala.

The phenomenology and neuroanatomy of mania secondary to neurological disorders is consistent with findings in primary mania and bipolar disorder. While the diversity of lesions and difficulty in ruling out premorbid psychiatric conditions limit the conclusions that can be drawn, a number of findings are fairly consistent. Structurally, secondary mania is associated with destructive lesions that tend to occur in the right hemisphere, particularly the frontal cortex, mesial temporal lobe and basal ganglia. Functionally hyperactivity in the left basal ganglia and subcortical structures, and hypoactivity in the right ventral prefrontal and basotemporal cortex have been reported in cases of secondary mania. The destruction of right hemisphere or frontal areas is hypothesized to lead to a shift to excessive left sided or subcortical reward processing.

John O. Brooks III put forward a model of bipolar disorder involving dysregulation of a circuit called the “corticolimbic system”. The model was based on more or less consistent observations of reduced activity in the mOFC, vlPFC, and dlPFC, as well as the more or less consistent observations of increased activity in the amygdala, parahippocampal gyrus, cerebellar vermis, anterior temporal cortex, sgACC, and ACC. This pattern of abnormal activity was suggested to contribute to disrupted cognitive and affective processes in bipolar disorder.


During acute mood episodes, people with bipolar demonstrate mood congruent processing biases. Depressed patients are quicker to react to negatively valenced stimuli, while manic patients are quicker to react to positively valenced stimuli. Acute mood episodes are also associated with congruent abnormalities during decision making tasks. Depressed bipolar is associated with conservative responding, while manic bipolar is associated with liberal responses. Both depression and mania are associated with similar and broad cognitive impairments, including on tests of attention, processing speed, working memory, executive functions, and reaction time.

Clinically, mania is characterised by spending sprees, poor judgement, and inappropriate speech and behaviour. Congruent with this, mania is associated impulsivity on Go-No Go tasks, deficits in emotional decision making, poor probabilistic reasoning, impaired ability on continuous performance tasks, set shifting, and planning. The clinical phenomenology and neurocognitive deficits are similar to those seen in patients with damage to the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), which has been reported in functional neuroimaging studies to be abnormal in bipolar mania. Specifically, reduced blood flow to the lateral OFC has been reported, and may reflect dysfunction that leads to the neurocognitive deficits.

In novel environments, both bipolar manic and bipolar euthymic people demonstrate increased activity, exploration and linear movement that is greater than controls, people with ADHD and people with schizophrenia. Using this behavioural pattern in “reverse translational” studies, this behavioural abnormality has been associated with the cholinergic-aminergic hypothesis, which postulates elevated dopaminergic signalling in mania. Reducing the function of DAT using pharmacological or genetic means produces a similar behavioural pattern in animal models. Pharmacological data is consistent with dysfunction of dopamine in bipolar as some studies have reported hypersensitivity to stimulants (however, some studies have found that stimulants effectively attenuate manic behaviour, and co-morbid ADHD and bipolar are effectively treated with stimulants), and the mechanism of antimanic drugs may involve attenuating dopamine signalling.

Hypersensitivity of reward systems is consistent across mood states in bipolar, and is evident in the prodrome. Increases in goal directed behaviour, risk taking, positive emotions in response to reward, ambitious goal setting and inflexibility in goal directed behaviours are present in euthymia. Neuroimaging studies are consistent with trait hypersensitivity in reward systems, as both mania and depression is associated with elevated resting activity in the striatum, and elevated activity in the striatum and OFC during emotional processing, receipt of reward, and anticipation of reward. Increased activity in the striatum and OFC has also been reported in euthymia during anticipation and receipt of reward, although this finding is extremely inconsistent. These abnormalities may be related to circadian rhythm dysfunction in bipolar, including increased sleep latency, evening preference and poor sleep quality, as the neural systems responsible for both processes are functionally linked. A few lines of evidence suggest that elevated dopamine signalling, possibly due to reduced functionality in DAT, underlie abnormalities in reward function. Dopaminergic drugs such as L-DOPA can precipitate mania, and drugs that attenuate dopaminergic signalling extracellularly (antipsychotics) and intracellularly (lithium) can be efficacious in treating mania. While a large body of translational evidence exists to support DAT hypofunction, in vivo evidence is limited to one study reporting reduced DAT binding in the caudate.



In a review of structural neuroimaging in bipolar disorder, Strakowski proposed dysfunction in an iterative emotional network called the “anterior limbic network”, composed of the thalamus, globus pallidus, striatum, vlPFC, vmPFC, ACC, amygdala, dlPFC, and cerebellar vermis. Structural imaging studies frequently find abnormalities in these regions which are putatively involved in emotional and cognitive functions that are disrupted in bipolar disorder. For example, while structural neuroimaging studies do not always find abnormal PFC volume in bipolar disorder, when they do, PFC volume is reduced. Furthermore, reduced PFC volume is associated with response inhibition deficits and duration of illness. When the PFC at large is not examined and the focus is narrowed to the OFC/vPFC, results more consistently observed reductions, although not in bipolar youth. The sgACC volume is observed to be reduced not only in bipolar disorder, but also in unipolar disorder, as well as people with a family history of affective disorders. Enlargement of the striatum and globus pallidus are commonly found, and although some studies fail to observe this, at least one study has reported no volumetric but subtle morphometric abnormalities.

Structural neuroimaging studies consistently report increased frequency of white matter hyperintensities in people with bipolar. However, whether or not the lesions play a causative role is unknown. It is possible that they are a result of secondary factors, such as the processes underlying an increased risk of cardiovascular disease in bipolar. On the other hand, the observation of reduced white matter integrity in frontal-subcortical regions makes it possible that these hyperintensities play a role dysfunction between limbic and cortical regions. Global brain volume and morphology are normal in bipolar. Regional deficits in volume have been reported in ventrolateral and dorsolateral prefrontal regions. Based on this, it has been suggested that reduced limbic regulation by prefrontal regions plays a role in bipolar. Findings related to the volume of the basal ganglia have been inconsistent.

In healthy controls, amygdala volume is inversely related to age. This relationship is reversed in bipolar disorder, and meta analyses have found reduced amygdala volume in paediatric bipolar disorder, and increased amygdala volume in adulthood. This is hypothesized to reflect abnormal development of amygdala, possibly involving impaired synaptic pruning, although this may reflect medication or compensatory effects; that is, these abnormalities may not be involved in the mechanism of bipolar, and may instead be a consequence.

A 2016 meta analysis reported that bipolar disorder was associated with grey matter reductions bilaterally in the ACC, vmPFC, and insula extending to the temporal lobe. When compared with grey matter reductions in unipolar depression, significant overlap occurred in the insular and medial prefrontal regions. Although unipolar depression was associated with reductions in the ventral most and dorsal most regions of the mPFC and bipolar with a region near the genu of the corpus callosum, the overlap was still statistically significant. Similar to the overlap with major depression, a significant overlap of bipolar disorder with schizophrenia in grey matter volume reduction occurs in the anterior cingulate cortex, medial prefrontal cortex, lateral prefrontal cortex and bilateral insula.

A 2010 meta analysis of differences in regional grey matter volume between controls and bipolar disorder reported reductions bilaterally in the inferior frontal cortex and insula, which extended more prominently in the right side to include the precentral gyrus, as well as grey matter reductions in the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex (BA24) and anterior cingulate cortex (BA32). One meta analysis reported enlargement of the lateral ventricles and globus pallidus, as well as reductions in hippocampus volume and cross sectional area of the corpus callosum. Another meta analysis reported a similar increase volumes of the globus pallidus and lateral ventricles, as well as increased amygdala volume relative to people with schizophrenia. Reductions have also been reported in the right inferior frontal gyrus, insula, pars triangularis, pars opercularis, and middle and superior temporal gyrus. Structural neuroimaging in people who are susceptible to bipolar disorder (i.e. have a number of relatives with bipolar disorder) have produced few consistent results. Consistent abnormalities in adult first degree relatives include larger insular cortex volumes, while offspring demonstrate increased right inferior frontal gyrus volumes.

The ENIGMA bipolar disorder working group reported cortical thinning in the left Pars opercularis (BA44-inferior frontal gyrus), left fusiform gyrus, left rostral middle frontal cortex, right inferior parietal cortex, along with an increase in the right entorhinal cortex. Duration of illness was associated with reductions bilaterally in the pericalcarine gyrus, left rostral anterior cingulate and right cuneus, along with increases in the right entorhinal cortex. Treatment with lithium was associated with increased cortical thickness bilaterally in the superior parietal gyrus, left paracentral gyrus, and left paracentral lobule. A history of psychosis was associated with reduced surface area in the right frontal pole. Another study on subcortical abnormalities by the same research group reported reductions in the hippocampus, amygdala, and thalamus, along with ventricular enlargement.

One meta analysis reported that when correcting for lithium treatment, which was associated with increased hippocampal volume, people with bipolar demonstrate reduced hippocampus volume.

White matter is reduced in the posterior corpus callosum, regions adjacent to the anterior cingulate, the left optic radiation, and right superior longitudinal tract, and increased in the cerebellum and lentiform nuclei.


Studies examining resting blood flow, or metabolism generally observed abnormalities dependent upon mood state. Bipolar depression is generally associated with dlPFC and mOFC hypometabolism. Less consistent associations include reduced temporal cortex metabolism, increased limbic metabolism and reduced ACC metabolism. Mania is also associated with dlPFC and OFC hypometabolism. Limbic hypermetabolism is more consistent than in bipolar depression, but the overall study quality is low due to limitations associated with neuroimaging in acutely manic patients. Another review reported that mania is generally associated with frontal/ventral hypoactivation, while depression is generally associated with the opposite. A degree of lateralization with regard to abnormalities has been reported, with mania being associated with the right hemisphere, and depression the left. Trait abnormalities in euthymic patients have been observed, including hypoactivity in the ventral prefrontal cortex, and hyperactivity in the amygdala.

During cognitive or emotional tasks, functional neuroimaging studies, consistently find hyperactivation of the basal ganglia, amygdala, and thalamus. Prefrontal abnormalities are less consistently reported, although hyperactivation in the ventral prefrontal cortex is a fairly consistent finding. Hyperactivity in the amygdala and hypoactivity in the medial and ventral prefrontal cortex during exposure to emotional stimuli has been interpreted as reflecting dysfunction in emotional regulation circuits. Increased effective connectivity between the amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex, and elevated striatal responsiveness during reward tasks have been interpreted as hyper-responsiveness in positive emotion and reward circuitry. The abnormal activity in these circuits has been observed in non-emotional tasks, and is congruent with changes in grey and white matter in these circuits. Neural response during reward tasks differentiates unipolar depression from bipolar depression, with the former being associated with reduced neural response and the latter being associated with elevated neural response. An ALE meta analysis of functional neuroimaging comparing adults and adolescents found a larger degree of hyperactivity in the inferior frontal gyrus and precuneus, as well as a larger degree of hypoactivity in the anterior cingulate cortex in adolescents relative to adults.

Regardless of mood state, during response inhibition tasks, people with bipolar disorder underactivate the right inferior frontal gyrus. Changes specific on euthymia include hyperactivations in the left superior temporal gyrus and hypoactivations in the basal ganglia, and changes specific to mania include hyperactivation in the basal ganglia. A meta analysis of fMRI studies reported underactivations in the inferior frontal gyrus and putamen and hyperactivation of the parahippocampus, hippocampus, and amygdala. State specific abnormalities were reported for mania and euthymia. During mania, hypoactivation was significant in the inferior frontal gyrus, while euthymia was associated with hypoactivation of the lingual gyrus and hyperactivation of the amygdala.

A meta analysis using region of interest (as opposed to statistical parametric mapping) analysis reported abnormalities across paradigms for euthymic, depressed, and manic subjects. In bipolar mania, reduced activity was reported in the superior, middle, and inferior frontal gyri, while increased activity was reported in the parahippocampal, superior temporal, middle temporal, and inferior temporal gyri. In bipolar depression, reduced activity was reported in the sgACC, ACC, and middle frontal gyrus. In euthymia, reduced activity was reported in the dlPFC, vlPFC, and ACC, while increased activity was reported in the amygdala. During studies examining response to emotional faces, both mania and euthymia were reported to be associated with elevated amygdala activity.

An activation likelihood estimate meta analysis of bipolar studies that used paradigms involving facial emotions reported a number of increases and decreases in activation compared to healthy controls. Elevated activity was reported in the parahippocampal gyrus, putamen, and pulvinar nuclei, while reduced activity was reported bilaterally in the inferior frontal gyrus. Compared to major depressive disorder, bipolar patients overactivated the vACC, pulvinar nucleus, and parahippocampus gyrus/amygdala to a greater degree, while underactivating the dACC. Bipolar subjects overactivated parahippocampus for both fearful and happy expressions, while the caudate and putamen were overactived for happiness and fear respectively. Bipolar subjects also underactivated the ACC for both fearful and happy expressions, while the IFG was underactivated for fearful expressions only. These results were interpreted as reflecting increased engagement with emotionally salient stimuli in bipolar disorder.

Specific symptoms have been linked to various neuroimaging abnormalities in bipolar disorder, as well as schizophrenia. Reality distortion, disorganisation, and psychomotor poverty have been linked to prefrontal, thalamic, and striatal regions in both schizophrenia and bipolar (Table below).

Symptom DimensionImplicated Regions in BipolarImplicated Regions in Schizophrenia
Disorganisation1. Hypofunction in the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (vlPFC).
2. Hypofunction in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC)/ACC.
1. Hypofunction in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC).
2. Hypofunction in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC).
3. Hypofunction in the cerebellum.
4. Hypofunction in the insula.
5. Hypofunction in the temporal cortex.
Reality Distortion1. Functional abnormalities in prefrontal and thalamic regions.1. Reduced grey matter in perisylvian and thalamic regions.
2. Hypofunction of the amygdala, mPFC and hippocampus/parahippocampus.
Psychomotor Poverty1. Functional abnormalities in the vlPFC and ventral striatum.1. Reduced grey matter in the vlPFC, mPFC and dlPFC.
2. Reduced grey matter in the striatum, thalamus, amygdala and temporal cortices.

Frontal Cortex

Different regions of the ACC have been studied in the literature, with the subgenual (sgACC) and rostral (rACC) parts being largely separated. Grey matter volume in the sgACC has been, albeit with some exceptions, found to be reduced in bipolar. Along with this, bipolar is associated with increased blood flow in the sgACC that normalises with treatment. Congruent with these abnormalities is a reduction in glial cells observed in post mortem studies, and reduced integrity of white matter possibly involving a hemispheric imbalance. Findings in the rACC are largely the same as the sgACC (reduced GM, increased metabolism), although more studies have been carried out on protein expression and neuronal morphology. The rACC demonstrates reduced expression NMDA, kainate and GABA related proteins. These findings may be compensating for increased glutaminergic afferents, evidenced by increased Glx in MRS studies. One VBM study reported reduced grey matter in the dACC. Inconsistent results have been found during functional neuroimaging of cognitive tasks, with both decreased and increased activation being observed. Decreased neuron volume and a congruent increase in neural density have been found in the dACC. Reduced expression of markers of neural connectivity have been reported (e.g. synaptophysin, GAP-43), which is congruent with the abnormal structural connectivity observed in the region.

The orbitofrontal cortex demonstrates reduced grey matter, functional activity, GAD67 mRNA, neuronal volume in layer I, and microstructural integrity in people with bipolar.

Although the role of acute mood states is unknown, grey matter volume is generally reported as reduced in the dlPFC, along with resting and task evoked functional signals. Signals of myelination and density of GABAegic neurons is also reduced in the dlPFC, particularly in layers II-V.


Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (MRS)

Increased combined glutamine and glutamate (Glx) have been observed globally, regardless of medication status. Increased Glx has been associated with reduced frontal mismatch negativity, interpreted as dysfunction in NMDA signalling. N-acetyl aspartate levels in the basal ganglia are reduced in bipolar disorder, and trends towards increased in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. NAA to creatine ratios are reduced in the hippocampus.

One review of magnetic resonance spectroscopy studies reported increased choline in the basal ganglia, and cingulate as well as a decreased in NAA in the dlPFC and hippocampus. State specific findings were reported to include elevated phosphomonoesters during acute mood states, and reduced inositol with treatment. Another review reported inositol abnormalities in the basal ganglia, and frontal, temporal and cingulate regions. The finding of a trend towards increased NAA concentrations in the dlPFC may be due to medication status, as treatment with lithium or valproate has been noted to lead to null findings, or even elevated levels of NAA in the frontal cortex. In unmedicated populations, reduced NAA consistently found in the prefrontal cortex, particularly the dlPFC.

One meta analysis reported no changes in MRS measured GABA in bipolar disorder.


Various hypotheses related to monoamines have been proposed. The biogenic amine hypothesis posits general dysregulation of monoamines underlies bipolar and affective disorders. The cholinergic aminergic balance hypothesis posits that an increased ratio of cholinergic activity relative to adrenergic signalling underlies depression, while increased adrenergic signalling relative to cholinergic signalling underlies mania. The permissive hypothesis suggests that serotonin is necessary but not sufficient for affective symptoms, and that reduced serotonergic tone is common to both depression and mania.

Studies of the binding potential of dopamine receptor D2 and dopamine transporter have been inconsistent but dopamine receptor D1’s binding potential has been observed to be decreased. Drugs that release dopamine produce effects similar to mania, leading some to hypothesize that mania involves increased catecholaminergic signalling. Dopamine has also been implicated through genetic “reverse translational” studies demonstrating an association between reduced DAT functionality and manic symptoms. The binding potential of muscarinic receptors are reduced in vivo during depression, as well as in post mortem studies, supporting the cholinergic aminergic balance hypothesis.

The role of monoamines in bipolar have been studied using neurotransmitter metabolites. Reduced concentration of homovanillic acid, the primary metabolite of dopamine, in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of people with depression is consistently reported. This finding is related to psychomotor retardation and anhedonia. Furthermore, parkinson’s disease is associated with high rates of depression, and one case study has reported the abolishment of parkinson’s symptoms during manic episodes. The binding potential of VMAT2 is also elevated in bipolar I patients with a history of psychosis, although this finding is inconsistent with finding that valproate increases VMAT2 expression in rodents. One study on DAT binding in acutely depressed people with bipolar reported reductions in the caudate but not putamen.

Studies of serotonin’s primary metabolite 5-HIAA have been inconsistent, although limited evidence points towards reduced central serotonin signalling in a subgroup of aggressive or suicidal patients. Studies assessing the binding potential of the serotonin transporter or serotonin receptors have also been inconsistent, but generally point towards abnormal serotonin signalling. One study reported both increased SERT binding in the insula, mPFC, ACC and thalamus, and decreased SERT binding in the raphe nuclei in acutely depressed bipolar. Serotonin may play a role in mania by increasing the salience of stimuli related to reward.

One more line of evidence that suggests a role of monoamines in bipolar is the process of antidepressant related affective switches. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and more frequently, tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) are associated with between a 10%-70% risk of affective switch from depression to mania or hypomania, depending upon the criteria used. The more robust association between TCAs and affective switches, as opposed to more selective drugs, has been interpreted as indicating that more extensive perturbation in monoamine systems is associated with more frequent mood switching.

Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal Axis

Bipolar disorder is associated with elevated basal and dexamethasone elicited cortisol and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). These abnormalities are particularly prominent in mania, and are inversely associated with antipsychotic use. The incidence of psychiatric symptoms associated with corticosteroids is between 6% and 32%. Corticosteroids may precipitate mania, supporting the role of the HPA axis in affective episodes. Measures from urinary versus salivary cortisol have been contradictory, with one study of the former concluding that HPA hyperactivity was a trait marker, while a study of the latter concluded that no difference in HPA activity exists in remission. Measurement during the morning are thought to be more sensitive due to the cortisol awakening response. Studies are generally more consistent, and observe HPA hyperactivity.

Neurotrophic Factors

Brain derived neurotrophic factor levels are peripherally reduced in both manic and depressive phases.

Intracellular Signalling

The levels of Gαs but not other G proteins is increased in the frontal, temporal and occipital cortices. The binding of serotonin receptors to G proteins is also elevated globally. Leukocyte and platelet levels of Gαs and Gαi is also elevated in those with bipolar disorder. Downstream targets of G protein signalling is also altered in bipolar disorder. Increased levels of adenylyl cyclase, protein kinase A (PKA), and cyclic adenosine monophosphate induced PKA activity are also reported. Phosphoinositide signalling is also altered, with elevated levels of phospholipase C, protein kinase C, and Gαq being reported in bipolar. Elevated cAMP stimulated phosphorylation or Rap1 (a substrate of PKA), along with increased levels of Rap1 have been reported in peripherally collected cells of people with bipolar. Increased coupling of serotonin receptors to G proteins has been observed. While linkage studies performed on genes related to G protein signalling, as well as studies on post mortem mRNA concentration fail to report an association with bipolar disorder, the overall evidence suggests abnormal coupling of neurotransmission systems with G proteins.

Mania may be specifically associated with protein kinase C hyperactivity, although most evidence for this mechanism is indirect. The gene DGKH has been reported in genome wide association studies to be related to bipolar disorder, and it is known to be involved in PKC regulation. Manipulation of PKC in animals produces behavioural phenotypes similar to mania, and PKC inhibition is a plausible mechanism of action for mood stabilisers. Overactive PKC signalling may lead to long term structural changes in the frontal cortex as well, potentially leading to progression of manic symptoms.

Glycogen synthase kinase 3 has been implicated in bipolar disorder, as bipolar medications lithium and valproate have been shown to increase its phosphorylation, thereby inhibiting it. However, some postmortem studies have not shown any differences in GSK-3 levels or the levels of a downstream target β-catenin. In contrast, one review reported a number of studies observing reduced expression of β-catenin and GSK3 mRNA in the prefrontal and temporal cortex.

Excessive response of arachidonic acid signalling cascades in response to stimulation by dopamine receptor D2 or NMDA receptors may be involved in bipolar mania. The evidence for this is primarily pharmacological, based on the observation that drugs that are effective in treating bipolar reduced AA cascade magnitude, while drugs that exacerbate bipolar do the opposite.

Calcium homeostasis may be impaired across all mood states. Elevated basal intracellular, and provoked calcium concentrations in platelets and transformed lymphoblasts are found in people with bipolar. Serum concentrations of calcium are also elevated, and abnormal calcium concentrations in response to stimulation of olfactory neurons is also observed. These findings are congruent with the genetic association of bipolar with CACNAC1, an L-type calcium channel, as well as the efficacy of anti-epileptic agents. Normal platelets placed in plasma from people with bipolar disorder do not demonstrate elevated levels of intracellular calcium, indicating that dysfunction lies intracellularly. One possible mechanism is that elevated inositol triphosphate (IP3) caused by hyperactive neuronal calcium sensor 1 causes excessive calcium release. Serum levels of S100B (a calcium binding protein) are elevated in bipolar mania.

Mitochondrial Dysfunction

Some researchers have suggested bipolar disorder is a mitochondrial disease. Some cases of familial chronic progressive external ophthalmoplegia demonstrate increased rates of bipolar disorder before the onset of CPEO, and the higher rate of maternal inheritance patterns support this hypothesis. Downregulation of genes encoding for mitochondrial subunits, decreased concentration of phosphocreatine, decreased brain pH, and elevated lactate concentrations have also been reported. Mitochondrial dysfunction may be related to elevated levels of the lipid peroxidation marker thiobarbituric acid reactive substances, which are attenuated by lithium treatment.


A number of abnormalities in GABAergic neurons have been reported in people with bipolar disorder. People with bipolar demonstrate reduced expression of GAD67 in CA3/CA2 subregion of the hippocampus. More extensive reductions of other indicators of GABA function have been reported in the CA4 and CA1. Abnormal expression of kainate receptors on GABAergic cells have been reported, with reductions in GRIK1 and GRIK2 mRNA in the CA2/CA3 being found in people with bipolar. Decreased levels of HCN channels have also been reported, which, along with abnormal glutamate signalling, could contribute to reduced GABAergic tone in the hippocampus.

The observation of increased Glx in the prefrontal cortex is congruent with the observation of reduced glial cell counts and prefrontal cortex volume, as glia play an important role in glutamate homeostasis. Although the number and quality of studies examining NMDA receptor subunits is poor, evidence for reduced NMDA signalling and reduced contribution from the NR2A subunit is consistent.

Decreased neuron density and soma size in the ACC and dlPFC has been observed. The dlPFC also demonstrates reduced glial density, a finding that is less consistent in the ACC. The reduction in cell volume may be due to early stage apoptosis, a mechanism that is supported by studies observing reduced anti-apoptotic gene expression in both peripheral cells and neurons, as well as the reduction in BDNF that is consistently found in bipolar. Reductions in cortical glia are not found across the whole cortex (e.g. somatosensory areas demonstrate normal glial density and counts), indicating that systematic dysfunction in glial cells is not likely; rather, abnormal functionality of connectivity in specific regions may result in abnormal glia, which may in turn exacerbate dysfunction.

Dendritic atrophy and loss of oligodendrocytes is found in the medial prefrontal cortex, and is possibly specific to GABAergic neurons.

Immune Dysfunction

Elevated levels of IL-6, C-reactive protein (CRP) and TNFα have been reported in bipolar. Levels of some (IL-6 and CRP) but not all (TNFα) may be reduced by treatment. Increases in IL-6 have been reported in mood episodes, regardless of polarity. Inflammation has been consistently reported in bipolar disorder, and the progressive nature lies in dysregulation of NF-κB.

What is Bipolar II Disorder?


Bipolar II disorder is a bipolar spectrum disorder (refer to Bipolar I disorder) characterised by at least one episode of hypomania and at least one episode of major depression. Diagnosis for bipolar II disorder requires that the individual must never have experienced a full manic episode. Otherwise, one manic episode meets the criteria for bipolar I disorder.

Refer to Mixed Affective State.

Bipolar mood shifts.

Hypomania is a sustained state of elevated or irritable mood that is less severe than mania yet may still significantly affect quality of life and result in permanent consequences including reckless spending, damaged relationships and poor judegment. Unlike mania, hypomania is not associated with psychosis. The hypomanic episodes associated with bipolar II disorder must last for at least four days.

Commonly, depressive episodes are more frequent and more intense than hypomanic episodes. Additionally, when compared to bipolar I disorder, type II presents more frequent depressive episodes and shorter intervals of well-being. The course of bipolar II disorder is more chronic and consists of more frequent cycling than the course of bipolar I disorder. Finally, bipolar II is associated with a greater risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviours than bipolar I or unipolar depression. Although bipolar II is commonly perceived to be a milder form of Type I, this is not the case. Types I and II present equally severe burdens.

Bipolar II is notoriously difficult to diagnose. Patients usually seek help when they are in a depressed state, or when their hypomanic symptoms manifest themselves in unwanted effects, such as high levels of anxiety, or the seeming inability to focus on tasks. Because many of the symptoms of hypomania are often mistaken for high-functioning behaviour or simply attributed to personality, patients are typically not aware of their hypomanic symptoms. In addition, many people who suffer from Bipolar II have periods of normal affect. As a result, when patients seek help, they are very often unable to provide their doctor with all the information needed for an accurate assessment; these individuals are often misdiagnosed with unipolar depression. Bipolar II is more common than Bipolar I, while Bipolar II and major depressive disorder have about the same rate of diagnosis. Of all individuals initially diagnosed with major depressive disorder, between 40% and 50% will later be diagnosed with either BP-I or BP-II. Substance use disorders (which have high co-morbidity with BP-II) and periods of mixed depression may also make it more difficult to accurately identify BP-II. Despite the difficulties, it is important that BP-II individuals be correctly assessed so that they can receive the proper treatment. Antidepressant use, in the absence of mood stabilisers, is correlated with worsening BP-II symptoms.

Brief History

In 19th century psychiatry, mania covered a broad range of intensity, and hypomania was equated by some to concepts of ‘partial insanity’ or monomania. A more specific usage was advanced by the German neuro-psychiatrist Emanuel Ernst Mendel in 1881, who wrote “I recommend (taking under consideration the word used by Hippocrates) to name those types of mania that show a less severe phenomenological picture, ‘hypomania'”. Narrower operational definitions of hypomania were developed from the 1960s/1970s.

The first diagnostic distinction to be made between manic-depression involving mania, and that involving hypomania, came from Carl Gustav Jung in 1903. In his paper, Jung introduced the non-psychotic version of the illness with the introductory statement, “I would like to publish a number of cases whose peculiarity consists in chronic hypomanic behavior” where “it is not a question of real mania at all but of a hypomanic state which cannot be regarded as psychotic.” Jung illustrated the hypomanic variation with five case histories, each involving hypomanic behaviour, occasional bouts of depression, and mixed mood states, which involved personal and interpersonal upheaval for each patient.

In 1975, Jung’s original distinction between mania and hypomania gained support. Fieve and Dunner published an article recognizing that only individuals in a manic state require hospitalisation. It was proposed that the presentation of either the one state or the other differentiates two distinct diseases; the proposition was initially met with scepticism. However, studies since confirm that bipolar II is a “phenomenologically” distinct disorder.

Empirical evidence, combined with treatment considerations, led the DSM-IV Mood Disorders Work Group to add bipolar II disorder as its own entity in the 1994 publication. (Only one other mood disorder was added to this edition, indicating the conservative nature of the DSM-IV work group.) In May 2013, the DSM-5 was released. Two revisions to the existing Bipolar II criteria are anticipated. The first expected change will reduce the required duration of a hypomanic state from four to two days. The second change will allow hypomania to be diagnosed without the manifestation of elevated mood; that is, increased energy/activity will be sufficient. The rationale behind the latter revision is that some individuals with Bipolar II manifest only visible changes in energy. Without presenting elevated mood, these individuals are commonly misdiagnosed with major depressive disorder. Consequently, they receive prescriptions for antidepressants, which unaccompanied by mood stabilisers, may induce rapid cycling or mixed states.

Signs and Symptoms

Hypomanic Episodes

Hypomania is the signature characteristic of Bipolar II disorder. It is a state characterised by euphoria and/or an irritable mood. In order for an episode to qualify as hypomanic, the individual must also present three or more of the below symptoms, and last at least four consecutive days and be present most of the day, nearly every day.

  • Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity.
  • Decreased need for sleep (e.g. feels rested after only 3 hours of sleep).
  • More talkative than usual or pressure to keep talking.
  • Flight of ideas or subjective experience that thoughts are racing.
  • Distractability (i.e. attention too easily drawn to unimportant or irrelevant external stimuli), as reported or observed.
  • Increase in goal-directed activity (either socially, at work or school, or sexually) or psychomotor agitation.
  • Excessive involvement in activities that have a high potential for painful consequences (e.g., engaging in unrestrained buying sprees, sexual indiscretions, or foolish business investments).

It is important to distinguish between hypomania and mania. Mania is generally greater in severity and impairs function, sometimes leading to hospitalisation and in the most severe cases, psychosis. In contrast, hypomania usually increases functioning. For this reason, it is not uncommon for hypomania to go unnoticed. Often it is not until individuals are in a depressive episode that they seek treatment, and even then their history of hypomania may go undiagnosed. Although hypomania may increase functioning, episodes need to be treated because they may precipitate a depressive episode.

Depressive Episodes

It is during depressive episodes that BP-II patients often seek help. Symptoms may be syndromal or subsyndromal. Depressive BP-II symptoms may include five or more of the below symptoms (at least one of them must be either depressed mood or loss of interest/pleasure). In order to be diagnosed, they need to be present only during the same two-week period, as a change from previous hypomanic functioning:

  • Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day, as indicated by either subjective report (e.g. feels sad, empty, or hopeless) or observation made by others (e.g. appears tearful). In children and adolescents, this could be irritable mood.
  • Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day (as indicated by either subjective account or observation).
  • Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain (e.g. a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month), or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day (e.g. in children, failure to make expected weight gain).
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia nearly every day.
  • Psychomotor agitation or retardation nearly every day (observable by others; not merely subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down).
  • Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day (not merely self-reproach or guilt about being sick).
  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate, possible irritability or indecisiveness, nearly every day (either by subjective account or as observed by others).
  • Recurrent thoughts of death (not just fear of dying), recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, a suicide attempt, or a specific plan for completing suicide.

Evidence also suggests that BP-II is strongly associated with atypical depression. Essentially, this means that many BP-II patients exhibit reverse vegetative symptoms. BP-II patients may have a tendency to oversleep and overeat, while typically depressed patients sleep and eat less than usual.

Mixed Depression

Depressive mixed states occur when patients experience depression and non-euphoric, usually subsyndromal, hypomania at the same time. As mentioned previously, it is particularly difficult to diagnose BP-II when a patient is in this state.

In a mixed state, mood is depressed, but the following symptoms of hypomania present as well:

  • Irritability.
  • Mental hyperactivity.
  • Behavioural hyperactivity.

Mixed states are associated with greater levels of suicidality than non-mixed depression. Antidepressants may increase this risk.


In the case of a relapse, the following symptoms often occur and are considered early warning signs:

  • Sleep disturbance: patient requires less sleep and does not feel tired.
  • Racing thoughts and/or speech.
  • Anxiety.
  • Irritability.
  • Emotional intensity.
  • Spending more money than usual.
  • Binge behaviour, including food, drugs, or alcohol.
  • Arguments with family members and friends.
  • Taking on many projects at once.

People with bipolar disorder may develop dissociation to match each mood they experience. For some, this is done intentionally, as a means by which to escape trauma or pain from a depressive period, or simply to better organise one’s life by setting boundaries for one’s perceptions and behaviours.

Studies indicate that the following events may also precipitate relapse in BP-II patients:

  • Stressful life events.
  • Relatives’ or peers’ criticism.
  • Antidepressant use.
  • Disrupted circadian rhythm.

Comorbid Conditions

Comorbid conditions are extremely common in individuals with BP-II. In fact, individuals are twice as likely to present a comorbid disorder than not. These include anxiety, eating, personality (cluster B), and substance use disorders. For bipolar II disorder, the most conservative estimate of lifetime prevalence of alcohol or other substance use disorders is 20%. In patients with comorbid substance use disorder and BP-II, episodes have a longer duration and treatment compliance decreases. Preliminary studies suggest that comorbid substance use is also linked to increased risk of suicidality. The question of which condition should be designated the index and which the comorbid condition is not self-evident and may vary in relation to the research question, the disease that prompted a particular episode of care, or of the specialty of the attending physician. A related notion is that of complication, a condition that coexists or ensues, as defined in the Medical Subject Headings (MeSH)-controlled vocabulary maintained by the National Library of Medicine (NLM).


Scientists are studying the possible causes of bipolar disorder and most agree that there is no single cause. There have been very few studies conducted to examine the possible causes of Bipolar II. Those that have been done have not considered Bipolar I and Bipolar II separately and have had inconclusive results. Researchers have found that patients with either Bipolar I or II may have increased levels of blood calcium concentrations, but the results are inconclusive. The studies that have been conducted did not find a significant difference between those with Bipolar I or Bipolar II. There has been a study looking at genetics of Bipolar II disorder and the results are inconclusive; however, scientists did find that relatives of people with Bipolar II are more likely to develop the same bipolar disorder or major depression rather than developing Bipolar I disorder. The cause of Bipolar disorder can be attributed to misfiring neurotransmitters that overstimulate the amygdala, which in turn causes the prefrontal cortex to stop working properly. The bipolar patient becomes overwhelmed with emotional stimulation with no way of understanding it, which can trigger mania and exacerbate the effects of depression.


A person diagnosed with bipolar II disorder will have experienced at least one hypomanic episode, no manic episode, and one or more major depressive episodes. Although bipolar II is thought to be less severe than bipolar I in regards to symptom intensity, it is actually more severe and distressing with respect to episode frequency and overall course. Those with bipolar II often experience more frequent bouts of depressive episodes. Specific criteria defined by the DSM-5 for a bipolar II diagnosis:

  • Criteria have been met for at least one hypomanic episode and at least one major depressive episode.
  • There has never been a manic episode.
  • The occurrence of the hypomanic episode(s) and major depressive episode(s) is not better explained by schizoaffective disorder, schizophrenia, delusional disorder, or other specified or unspecified schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorder.
  • Causes significant stress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

Studies have identified major differences between bipolar I and bipolar II in regards to their clinical features, comorbidity rates and family histories. According to Baek et al. (2011), during depressive episodes, bipolar II patients tend to show higher rates of psychomotor agitation, guilt, shame, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts. Bipolar II patients have shown higher lifetime comorbidity rates of DSM axis I diagnoses such as phobias, anxiety disorders, substance & alcohol use, and eating disorders and there is a higher correlation between bipolar II patients and family history of psychiatric illness, including major depression and substance-related disorders. The occurrence rate of psychiatric illness in first degree relatives of bipolar II patients was 26.5%, versus 15.4% in bipolar I patients.

Screening instruments like the Mood Disorders Questionnaire (MDQ) are helpful tools in determining a patient’s status on the bipolar spectrum, and getting families involved can also improve chances of an accurate diagnosis and acknowledgment of hypomanic episodes. In addition, there are certain features that have been shown to increase the chances that depressed patients are suffering from a bipolar disorder including atypical symptoms of depression like hypersomnia and hyperphagia, a family history of bipolar disorder, medication-induced hypomania, recurrent or psychotic depression, antidepressant refractory depression, and early or postpartum depression.


  • Chronic.
  • With Anxious Distress (DSM-5).
  • With catatonic features.
  • With melancholic features.
  • With psychotic features.
  • With atypical features.
  • With postpartum onset.
  • Longitudinal course specifiers (with and without inter-episode recovery).
  • With seasonal pattern (applies only to the pattern of major depressive episodes).
  • With rapid cycling.


Treatment typically includes three things: the treatment of acute hypomania, the treatment of acute depression, and the prevention of the relapse of either hypomania or depression. The main goal is to make sure that patients do not harm themselves.


The most common treatment for reducing bipolar II disorder symptoms is medication, usually in the form of mood stabilisers. However, treatment with mood stabilisers may produce a flat affect in the patient, which is dose-dependent. Concurrent use of SSRI antidepressants may help some with bipolar II disorder, though these medications should be used with caution because it is believed that they may cause a hypomanic switch.

The pharmaceutical management of bipolar II disorder is not generally supported by strong evidence, with limited randomised controlled trials (RCTs) published in the literature. Some medications used are:

  • Lithium: There is strong evidence that lithium is effective in treating both the depressive and hypomanic symptoms in bipolar II. In addition, its action as a mood stabiliser can be used to decrease the risk of hypomanic switch in patients treated with antidepressants.
  • Anticonvulsants: There is evidence that lamotrigine decreases the risk of relapse in rapid-cycling bipolar II. It appears to be more effective in bipolar II than bipolar I, suggesting that lamotrigine is more effective for the treatment of depressive rather than manic episodes. Doses ranging from 100-200 mg have been reported to have the most efficacy, while experimental doses of 400 mg have rendered little response. A large, multicentre trial comparing carbamazepine and lithium over two and a half years found that carbamazepine was superior in terms of preventing future episodes of bipolar II, although lithium was superior in individuals with bipolar I. There is also some evidence for the use of valproate and topiramate, although the results for the use of gabapentin have been disappointing.
  • Antidepressants: There is evidence to support the use of SSRI and SNRI antidepressants in bipolar II. Some sources consider them to be one of the first-line treatments. However, antidepressants also pose significant risks, including a switch to mania, rapid cycling, and dysphoria, so many psychiatrists advise against their use for bipolar. When used, antidepressants are typically combined with a mood stabiliser.
  • Antipsychotics: There is good evidence for the use of quetiapine, which has been shown to help to prevent recurrence in mania and depression, and it has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for this indication. There is also some evidence for the use of risperidone, although the relevant trial was not placebo-controlled and was complicated by the use of other medications in some of the patients.
  • Dopamine agonists: There is evidence for the efficacy of pramipexole from one RCT.

Non-Pharmaceutical Therapies

Non-pharmaceutical therapies can also help those with the illness. These include:

Relapse can still occur, despite continued medication and therapy.


There is evidence to suggest that bipolar II has a more chronic course of illness than bipolar I disorder. This constant and pervasive course of the illness leads to an increased risk in suicide and more hypomanic and major depressive episodes with shorter periods between episodes than bipolar I patients experience. The natural course of bipolar II disorder, when left untreated, leads to patients spending the majority of their lives unwell with much of their suffering stemming from depression. Their recurrent depression results in personal suffering and disability.

This disability can present itself in the form of psychosocial impairment, which has been suggested to be worse in bipolar II patients than in bipolar I patients. Another facet of this illness that is associated with a poorer prognosis is rapid cycling, which denotes the occurrence of four or more major depressive, hypomanic, and/or mixed episodes in a 12-month period. Rapid cycling is quite common in those with Bipolar II, much more so in women than in men (70% vs. 40%), and without treatment leads to added sources of disability and an increased risk of suicide. Women are more prone to rapid cycling between hypomanic episodes and depressive episodes. To improve a patient’s prognosis, long-term therapy is most favourably recommended for controlling symptoms, maintaining remission and preventing relapses. With treatment, patients have been shown to present a decreased risk of suicide (especially when treated with lithium) and a reduction of frequency and severity of their episodes, which in turn moves them toward a stable life and reduces the time they spend ill. To maintain their state of balance, therapy is often continued indefinitely, as around 50% of the patients who discontinue it relapse quickly and experience either full-blown episodes or sub-syndromal symptoms that bring significant functional impairments.


The deficits in functioning associated with Bipolar II disorder stem mostly from the recurrent depression that Bipolar II patients suffer from. Depressive symptoms are much more disabling than hypomanic symptoms and are potentially as, or more disabling than mania symptoms. Functional impairment has been shown to be directly linked with increasing percentages of depressive symptoms, and because sub-syndromal symptoms are more common – and frequent – in Bipolar II disorder, they have been implicated heavily as a major cause of psychosocial disability. There is evidence that shows the mild depressive symptoms, or even sub-syndromal symptoms, are responsible for the non-recovery of social functioning, which furthers the idea that residual depressive symptoms are detrimental for functional recovery in patients being treated for Bipolar II. It has been suggested that symptom interference in relation to social and interpersonal relationships in Bipolar II Disorder is worse than symptom interference in other chronic medical illnesses such as cancer. This social impairment can last for years, even after treatment that has resulted in a resolution of mood symptoms.

The factors related to this persistent social impairment are residual depressive symptoms, limited illness insight (a very common occurrence in patients with Bipolar II Disorder), and impaired executive functioning. Impaired ability in regards to executive functions is directly tied to poor psychosocial functioning, a common side-effect in patients with Bipolar II.

The impact on a patient’s psychosocial functioning stems from the depressive symptoms (more common in Bipolar II than Bipolar I). An increase in these symptoms’ severity seems to correlate with a significant increase in psychosocial disability. Psychosocial disability can present itself in poor semantic memory, which in turn affects other cognitive domains like verbal memory and (as mentioned earlier) executive functioning leading to a direct and persisting impact on psychosocial functioning.

An abnormal semantic memory organization can manipulate thoughts and lead to the formation of delusions and possibly affect speech and communication problems, which can lead to interpersonal issues. Bipolar II patients have also been shown to present worse cognitive functioning than those patients with Bipolar I, though they demonstrate about the same disability when it comes to occupational functioning, interpersonal relationships, and autonomy. This disruption in cognitive functioning takes a toll on their ability to function in the workplace, which leads to high rates of work loss in Bipolar II patient populations. After treatment and while in remission, Bipolar II patients tend to report a good psychosocial functioning but they still score less than patients without the disorder. These lasting impacts further suggest that a prolonged exposure to an untreated Bipolar II disorder can lead to permanent adverse effects on functioning.

Recovery and Recurrence

Bipolar II Disorder has a chronic relapsing nature. It has been suggested that Bipolar II patients have a higher degree of relapse than Bipolar I patients. Generally, within four years of an episode, around 60% of patients will relapse into another episode. Some patients are symptomatic half the time, either with full on episodes or symptoms that fall just below the threshold of an episode.

Because of the nature of the illness, long-term therapy is the best option and aims to not only control the symptoms but to maintain sustained remission and prevent relapses from occurring. Even with treatment, patients do not always regain full functioning, especially in the social realm. There is a very clear gap between symptomatic recovery and full functional recovery for both Bipolar I and Bipolar II patients. As such, and because those with Bipolar II spend more time with depressive symptoms that do not quite qualify as a major depressive episode, the best chance for recovery is to have therapeutic interventions that focus on the residual depressive symptoms and to aim for improvement in psychosocial and cognitive functioning. Even with treatment, a certain amount of responsibility is placed in the patient’s hands; they have to be able to assume responsibility for their illness by accepting their diagnosis, taking the required medication, and seeking help when needed to do well in the future.

Treatment often lasts after remission is achieved, and the treatment that worked is continued during the continuation phase (lasting anywhere from 6-12 months) and maintenance can last 1-2 years or, in some cases, indefinitely. One of the treatments of choice is Lithium, which has been shown to be very beneficial in reducing the frequency and severity of depressive episodes. Lithium prevents mood relapse and works especially well in Bipolar II patients who experience rapid-cycling. Almost all Bipolar II patients who take lithium have a decrease in the amount of time they spend ill and a decrease in mood episodes.

Along with medication, other forms of therapy have been shown to be beneficial for Bipolar II patients. A treatment called a “well-being plan” serves several purposes: it informs the patients, protects them from future episodes, teaches them to add value to their life, and works toward building a strong sense of self to fend off depression and reduce the desire to succumb to the seductive hypomanic highs. The plan has to aim high. Otherwise, patients will relapse into depression. A large part of this plan involves the patient being very aware of warning signs and stress triggers so that they take an active role in their recovery and prevention of relapse.


Several studies have shown that the risk of suicide is higher in patients who suffer from Bipolar II than those who suffer from Bipolar I, and especially higher than patients who suffer from major depressive disorder.

In results of a summary of several lifetime study experiments, it was found that 24% of Bipolar II patients experienced suicidal ideation or suicide attempts compared to 17% in Bipolar I patients and 12% in major depressive patients. Bipolar disorders, in general, are the third leading cause of death in 15 to 24 year olds. Bipolar II patients were also found to employ more lethal means and have more complete suicides overall.

Bipolar II patients have several risk factors that increase their risk of suicide. The illness is very recurrent and results in severe disabilities, interpersonal relationship problems, barriers to academic, financial, and vocational goals, and a loss of social standing in their community, all of which increase the likelihood of suicide. Mixed symptoms and rapid-cycling, both very common in Bipolar II, are also associated with an increased risk of suicide. The tendency for Bipolar II to be misdiagnosed and treated ineffectively, or not at all in some cases, leads to an increased risk.

As a result of the high suicide risk for this group, reducing the risk and preventing attempts remains a main part of the treatment; a combination of self-monitoring, close supervision by a therapist, and faithful adherence to their medication regimen will help to reduce the risk and prevent the likelihood of suicide.

Suicide, which is both a stereotypic yet highly individualised act, is a common endpoint for many patients with severe psychiatric illness. The mood disorders (depression and bipolar manic-depression) are by far the most common psychiatric conditions associated with suicide. At least 25% to 50% of patients with bipolar disorder also attempt suicide at least once. With the exception of lithium – which is the most demonstrably effective treatment against suicide – remarkably little is known about specific contributions of mood-altering treatments to minimising mortality rates in persons with major mood disorders in general and bipolar depression in particular. Suicide is usually a manifestation of severe psychiatric distress that is often associated with a diagnosable and treatable form of depression or other mental illness. In a clinical setting, an assessment of suicidal risk must precede any attempt to treat psychiatric illness.

Society and Culture

Select list of people with bipolar disorder:

  • Heath Black revealed in his autobiography, Black, that he has been diagnosed with Bipolar II.
  • Maria Bamford has been diagnosed with Bipolar II.
  • Geoff Bullock, singer-songwriter, was diagnosed with Bipolar II.
  • Mariah Carey was diagnosed with Bipolar II in 2001. In 2018, publicly revealed and actively seeking treatment in the form of therapy and medication.
  • Charmaine Dragun, former Australian journalist/newsreader. Inquest concluded she had Bipolar II.
  • Joe Gilgun has been diagnosed with Bipolar II.
  • Shane Hmiel has been diagnosed with Bipolar II.
  • Jesse Jackson Jr. has been diagnosed with Bipolar II.
  • Thomas Eagleton received a diagnosis of Bipolar II from Dr. Frederick K. Goodwin.
  • Carrie Fisher had been diagnosed with Bipolar II.
  • Albert Lasker is speculated to have had Bipolar II.
  • Demi Lovato has been diagnosed with Bipolar II.
  • Evan Perry, subject of the documentary Boy Interrupted, was diagnosed with Bipolar II.
  • Sylvia Plath is speculated to have had Bipolar II.
  • Richard Rossi, filmmaker, musician, and maverick minister was diagnosed with Bipolar II.
  • Rumer has been diagnosed with Bipolar II.
  • Robert Schumann is speculated to have had Bipolar II.
  • Catherine Zeta-Jones received treatment for Bipolar II disorder after dealing with the stress of her husband’s throat cancer. According to her publicist, Zeta-Jones made a decision to check into a “mental health facility” for a brief stay.

What is Bipolar I Disorder?


Bipolar I disorder (BD-I; pronounced “type one bipolar disorder”) is a type of bipolar spectrum disorder characterised by the occurrence of at least one manic episode, with or without mixed or psychotic features.

Most people also, at other times, have one or more depressive episodes, and all experience a hypomanic stage before progressing to full mania.

It is a type of bipolar disorder, and conforms to the classic concept of manic-depressive illness, which can include psychosis during mood episodes.

Refer to Bipolar II Disorder and Mixed Affective State.

Bipolar mood shifts.


The essential feature of bipolar I disorder is a clinical course characterised by the occurrence of one or more manic episodes or mixed episodes. Often, individuals have had one or more major depressive episodes. One episode of mania is sufficient to make the diagnosis of bipolar disorder; the person may or may not have a history of major depressive disorder. Episodes of substance-induced mood disorder due to the direct effects of a medication, or other somatic treatments for depression, drug abuse, or toxin exposure, or of mood disorder due to a general medical condition need to be excluded before a diagnosis of bipolar I disorder can be made. Bipolar I disorder requires confirmation of only 1 full manic episode for diagnosis, but may be associated with hypomanic and depressive episodes as well. Diagnosis for bipolar II disorder does not include a full manic episode; instead, it requires the occurrence of both a hypomanic episode and a major depressive episode. Serious aggression has been reported to occur in one of every ten first-major episode BD-I patients with psychotic features, its prevalence in this group being particularly high in association with a recent suicide attempt, alcohol-abuse, learning disability, or manic polarity in the first episode.

Bipolar I disorder (and bipolar II disorder) is often comorbid with other disorders including PTSD, substance use disorders and a variety of mood disorders. Up to 40% of people with bipolar disorder also present with PTSD, with higher rates occurring in women and individuals with bipolar I disorder. In addition, the episodes must not be better accounted for by schizoaffective disorder or superimposed on schizophrenia, schizophreniform disorder, delusional disorder, or a psychotic disorder not otherwise specified.

Medical Assessment

Regular medical assessments are performed to rule-out secondary causes of mania and depression. These tests include complete blood count, glucose, serum chemistry/electrolyte panel, thyroid function test, liver function test, renal function test, urinalysis, vitamin B12 and folate levels, HIV screening, syphilis screening, and pregnancy test, and when clinically indicated, an electrocardiogram (ECG), an electroencephalogram (EEG), a computed tomography (CT scan), and/or a magnetic resonance imagining (MRI) may be ordered. Drug screening includes recreational drugs, particularly synthetic cannabinoids, and exposure to toxins.

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition (DSM-IV-TR)

Dx Code #DisorderDescription
296.0xBipolar ISingle manic episode
296.40Bipolar IMost recent episode hypomanic
296.4xBipolar IMost recent episode manic
296.5xBipolar IMost recent episode depressed
296.6xBipolar IMost recent episode mixed
296.7Bipolar IMost recent episode unspecified

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5)

In May 2013, American Psychiatric Association released the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). There are several proposed revisions to occur in the diagnostic criteria of Bipolar I Disorder and its subtypes. For Bipolar I Disorder 296.40 (most recent episode hypomanic) and 296.4x (most recent episode manic), the proposed revision includes the following specifiers: with psychotic features, with mixed features, with catatonic features, with rapid cycling, with anxiety (mild to severe), with suicide risk severity, with seasonal pattern, and with postpartum onset. Bipolar I Disorder 296.5x (most recent episode depressed) will include all of the above specifiers plus the following: with melancholic features and with atypical features. The categories for specifiers will be removed in DSM-5 and criterion A will add or there are at least 3 symptoms of major depression of which one of the symptoms is depressed mood or anhedonia. For Bipolar I Disorder 296.7 (most recent episode unspecified), the listed specifiers will be removed.

The criteria for manic and hypomanic episodes in criteria A & B will be edited. Criterion A will include “and present most of the day, nearly every day”, and criterion B will include “and represent a noticeable change from usual behaviour”. These criteria as defined in the DSM-IV-TR have created confusion for clinicians and need to be more clearly defined.

There have also been proposed revisions to criterion B of the diagnostic criteria for a Hypomanic Episode, which is used to diagnose For Bipolar I Disorder 296.40, Most Recent Episode Hypomanic. Criterion B lists “inflated self-esteem, flight of ideas, distractibility, and decreased need for sleep” as symptoms of a Hypomanic Episode. This has been confusing in the field of child psychiatry because these symptoms closely overlap with symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Note that many of the above changes are still under active consideration and are not definite. For more information regarding proposed revisions to the DSM-5, please visit their website at dsm5.org.


  • F31 Bipolar Affective Disorder.
  • F31.6 Bipolar Affective Disorder, Current Episode Mixed.
  • F30 Manic Episode.
  • F30.0 Hypomania.
  • F30.1 Mania Without Psychotic Symptoms.
  • F30.2 Mania With Psychotic Symptoms.
  • F32 Depressive Episode.
  • F32.0 Mild Depressive Episode.
  • F32.1 Moderate Depressive Episode.
  • F32.2 Severe Depressive Episode Without Psychotic Symptoms.
  • F32.3 Severe Depressive Episode With Psychotic Symptoms.



Mood stabilisers are often used as part of the treatment process.

  • Lithium is the mainstay in the management of bipolar disorder but it has a narrow therapeutic range and typically requires monitoring.
  • Anticonvulsants, such as valproate, carbamazepine, or lamotrigine.
  • Atypical antipsychotics, such as quetiapine, risperidone, olanzapine, or aripiprazole.
  • Electroconvulsive therapy, a psychiatric treatment in which seizures are electrically induced in anesthetised patients for therapeutic effect.

Antidepressant-induced mania occurs in 20-40% of people with bipolar disorder. Mood stabilisers, especially lithium, may protect against this effect, but some research contradicts this.

A frequent problem in these individuals is nonadherence to pharmacological treatment; long-acting injectable antipsychotics may contribute to solving this issue in some patients.

A review of validated treatment guidelines for bipolar disorder by international bodies was published in 2020.


Psychosocial interventions can be used for managing acute depressive episodes and for maintenance treatment to aid in relapse prevention. This includes psycho education, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), family-focused therapy (FFT), interpersonal and social-rhythm therapy (IPSRT), and peer support.

Information on the condition, importance of regular sleep patterns, routines and eating habits and the importance of compliance with medication as prescribed. Behaviour modification through counselling can have positive influence to help reduce the effects of risky behaviour during the manic phase. Additionally, the lifetime prevalence for bipolar I disorder is estimated to be 1%.

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.

What is Bipolar Disorder?


Bipolar disorder, previously known as manic depression, is a mood disorder characterised by periods of depression and periods of abnormally-elevated mood that last from days to weeks each. If the elevated mood is severe or associated with psychosis, it is called mania; if it is less severe, it is called hypomania. During mania, an individual behaves or feels abnormally energetic, happy or irritable, and they often make impulsive decisions with little regard for the consequences. There is usually also a reduced need for sleep during manic phases. During periods of depression, the individual may experience crying and have a negative outlook on life and poor eye contact with others. The risk of suicide is high; over a period of 20 years, 6% of those with bipolar disorder died by suicide, while 30-40% engaged in self-harm. Other mental health issues, such as anxiety disorders and substance use disorders, are commonly associated with bipolar disorder.

Look here for A Quick Overview of Bipolar Disorder, An Overview of Bipolar Disorder in Children, and also Mixed Affective State.

Bipolar disorder is characterised by episodes of depression and mania.

While the causes of bipolar disorder are not clearly understood, both genetic and environmental factors are thought to play a role. Many genes, each with small effects, may contribute to the development of the disorder. Genetic factors account for about 70-90% of the risk of developing bipolar disorder. Environmental risk factors include a history of childhood abuse and long-term stress. The condition is classified as bipolar I disorder if there has been at least one manic episode, with or without depressive episodes, and as bipolar II disorder if there has been at least one hypomanic episode (but no full manic episodes) and one major depressive episode. If these symptoms are due to drugs or medical problems, they are not diagnosed as bipolar disorder. Other conditions that have overlapping symptoms with bipolar disorder include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, personality disorders, schizophrenia, and substance use disorder as well as many other medical conditions. Medical testing is not required for a diagnosis, though blood tests or medical imaging can rule out other problems.

Mood stabilisers – lithium and certain anticonvulsants such as valproate and carbamazepine as well as atypical antipsychotics such as aripiprazole – are the mainstay of long-term pharmacologic relapse prevention. Antipsychotics are additionally given during acute manic episodes as well as in cases where mood stabilisers are poorly tolerated or ineffective. In patients where compliance is of concern, long-acting injectable formulations are available. There is some evidence that psychotherapy improves the course of this disorder. The use of antidepressants in depressive episodes is controversial: they can be effective but have been implicated in triggering manic episodes. The treatment of depressive episodes, therefore, is often difficult. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is effective in acute manic and depressive episodes, especially with psychosis or catatonia (a syndrome characterised by profound unresponsiveness or stupor with abnormal movements in a person who is otherwise awake). Admission to a psychiatric hospital may be required if a person is a risk to themselves or others; involuntary treatment is sometimes necessary if the affected person refuses treatment.

Bipolar disorder occurs in approximately 1% of the global population. In the United States, about 3% are estimated to be affected at some point in their life; rates appear to be similar in females and males. Symptoms most commonly begin between the ages of 20 and 25 years old; an earlier onset in life is associated with a worse prognosis. Interest in functioning in the assessment of patients with bipolar disorder is growing, with an emphasis on specific domains such as work, education, social life, family, and cognition. Around one-quarter to one-third of people with bipolar disorder have financial, social or work-related problems due to the illness. Bipolar disorder is among the top 20 causes of disability worldwide and leads to substantial costs for society. Due to lifestyle choices and the side effects of medications, the risk of death from natural causes such as coronary heart disease in people with bipolar disorder is twice that of the general population.

Other Names

  • Bipolar affective disorder (BPAD).
  • Bipolar illness.
  • Manic depression.
  • Manic depressive disorder.
  • Manic-depressive illness (historical).
  • Manic-depressive psychosis.
  • Circular insanity (historical).
  • Bipolar disease.

In Brief

  • Specialty: Psychiatry.
  • Symptoms: Periods of depression and elevated mood.
  • Complications: Suicide, self-harm.
  • Usual onset: 25 years old.
  • Types: Bipolar I disorder, bipolar II disorder, others.
  • Causes: Environmental and genetic.
  • Risk factors: Family history, childhood abuse, long-term stress.
  • Differential diagnosis: Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, personality disorders, schizophrenia, substance use disorder.
  • Treatment: Psychotherapy, medications.
  • Medication: Lithium, antipsychotics, anticonvulsants.
  • Frequency: 1-3%.

Brief History

In the early 1800s, French psychiatrist Jean-Étienne Dominique Esquirol’s lypemania, one of his affective monomanias, was the first elaboration on what was to become modern depression. The basis of the current conceptualisation of bipolar illness can be traced back to the 1850s. In 1850, Jean-Pierre Falret described “circular insanity” (la folie circulaire; the lecture was summarised in 1851 in the “Gazette des hôpitaux” (“Hospital Gazette”). Three years later, in 1854, Jules-Gabriel-François Baillarger (1809-1890) described to the French Imperial Académie Nationale de Médecine a biphasic mental illness causing recurrent oscillations between mania and melancholia, which he termed folie à double forme, “madness in double form”). Baillarger’s original paper, “De la folie à double forme,” appeared in the medical journal Annales médico-psychologiques (Medico-psychological annals) in 1854.

These concepts were developed by the German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin (1856-1926), who, using Kahlbaum’s concept of cyclothymia, categorised and studied the natural course of untreated bipolar patients. He coined the term manic depressive psychosis, after noting that periods of acute illness, manic or depressive, were generally punctuated by relatively symptom-free intervals where the patient was able to function normally.

The term “manic-depressive reaction” appeared in the first version of the DSM in 1952, influenced by the legacy of Adolf Meyer. Subtyping into “unipolar” depressive disorders and bipolar disorders has its origin in Karl Kleist’s concept – since 1911 – of unipolar and bipolar affective disorders, which was used by Karl Leonhard in 1957 to differentiate between unipolar and bipolar disorder in depression. These subtypes have been regarded as separate conditions since publication of the DSM-III. The subtypes bipolar II and rapid cycling have been included since the DSM-IV, based on work from the 1970s by David Dunner, Elliot Gershon, Frederick Goodwin, Ronald Fieve, and Joseph Fleiss.

Signs and Symptoms

Late adolescence and early adulthood are peak years for the onset of bipolar disorder. The condition is characterised by intermittent episodes of mania and/or depression, with an absence of symptoms in between. During these episodes, people with bipolar disorder exhibit disruptions in normal mood, psychomotor activity (the level of physical activity that is influenced by mood) – e.g. constant fidgeting during mania or slowed movements during depression – circadian rhythm and cognition. Mania can present with varying levels of mood disturbance, ranging from euphoria, which is associated with “classic mania”, to dysphoria and irritability. Psychotic symptoms such as delusions or hallucinations may occur in both manic and depressive episodes; their content and nature are consistent with the person’s prevailing mood.

Bipolar mood shifts.

According to the DSM-5 criteria, mania is distinguished from hypomania by length: hypomania is present if elevated mood symptoms persist for at least four consecutive days, while mania is present if such symptoms persist for more than a week. Unlike mania, hypomania is not always associated with impaired functioning. The biological mechanisms responsible for switching from a manic or hypomanic episode to a depressive episode, or vice versa, remain poorly understood.

Manic Episodes

Also known as a manic episode, mania is a distinct period of at least one week of elevated or irritable mood, which can range from euphoria to delirium. The core symptom of mania involves an increase in energy of psychomotor activity. Mania can also present with increased self-esteem or grandiosity, racing thoughts, pressured speech that is difficult to interrupt, decreased need for sleep, disinhibited social behaviour, increased goal-oriented activities and impaired judgement, which can lead to exhibition of behaviours characterised as impulsive or high-risk, such as hypersexuality or excessive spending. To fit the definition of a manic episode, these behaviours must impair the individual’s ability to socialise or work. If untreated, a manic episode usually lasts three to six months.

In severe manic episodes, a person can experience psychotic symptoms, where thought content is affected along with mood. They may feel unstoppable, or as if they have a special relationship with God, a great mission to accomplish, or other grandiose or delusional ideas. This may lead to violent behaviour and, sometimes, hospitalisation in an inpatient psychiatric hospital. The severity of manic symptoms can be measured by rating scales such as the Young Mania Rating Scale, though questions remain about the reliability of these scales.

The onset of a manic or depressive episode is often foreshadowed by sleep disturbance. Manic individuals often have a history of substance abuse developed over years as a form of “self-medication”.

Hypomanic Episodes

Hypomania is the milder form of mania, defined as at least four days of the same criteria as mania, but which does not cause a significant decrease in the individual’s ability to socialise or work, lacks psychotic features such as delusions or hallucinations, and does not require psychiatric hospitalisation. Overall functioning may actually increase during episodes of hypomania and is thought to serve as a defence mechanism against depression by some. Hypomanic episodes rarely progress to full-blown manic episodes. Some people who experience hypomania show increased creativity, while others are irritable or demonstrate poor judgment.

Hypomania may feel good to some individuals who experience it, though most people who experience hypomania state that the stress of the experience is very painful. People with bipolar disorder who experience hypomania tend to forget the effects of their actions on those around them. Even when family and friends recognise mood swings, the individual will often deny that anything is wrong. If not accompanied by depressive episodes, hypomanic episodes are often not deemed problematic unless the mood changes are uncontrollable or volatile. Most commonly, symptoms continue for time periods from a few weeks to a few months.

Depressive Episodes

Refer to Major Depressive Disorder.

Symptoms of the depressive phase of bipolar disorder include persistent feelings of sadness, irritability or anger, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, excessive or inappropriate guilt, hopelessness, sleeping too much or not enough, changes in appetite and/or weight, fatigue, problems concentrating, self-loathing or feelings of worthlessness, and thoughts of death or suicide. Although the DSM-5 criteria for diagnosing unipolar and bipolar episodes are the same, some clinical features are more common in the latter, including increased sleep, sudden onset and resolution of symptoms, significant weight gain or loss, and severe episodes after childbirth.

The earlier the age of onset, the more likely the first few episodes are to be depressive. For most people with bipolar types 1 and 2, the depressive episodes are much longer than the manic or hypomanic episodes. Since a diagnosis of bipolar disorder requires a manic or hypomanic episode, many affected individuals are initially misdiagnosed as having major depression and incorrectly treated with prescribed antidepressants.

Mixed Affective Episodes

Refer to Mixed Affective State.

In bipolar disorder, a mixed state is an episode during which symptoms of both mania and depression occur simultaneously. Individuals experiencing a mixed state may have manic symptoms such as grandiose thoughts while simultaneously experiencing depressive symptoms such as excessive guilt or feeling suicidal. They are considered to have a higher risk for suicidal behaviour as depressive emotions such as hopelessness are often paired with mood swings or difficulties with impulse control. Anxiety disorders occur more frequently as a comorbidity in mixed bipolar episodes than in non-mixed bipolar depression or mania. Substance (including alcohol) abuse also follows this trend, thereby appearing to depict bipolar symptoms as no more than a consequence of substance abuse.

Comorbid Conditions

The diagnosis of bipolar disorder can be complicated by coexisting (comorbid) psychiatric conditions including obsessive-compulsive disorder, substance-use disorder, eating disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, social phobia, premenstrual syndrome (including premenstrual dysphoric disorder), or panic disorder. A thorough longitudinal analysis of symptoms and episodes, assisted if possible by discussions with friends and family members, is crucial to establishing a treatment plan where these comorbidities exist. Children of parents with bipolar disorder more frequently have other mental health problems.

People with bipolar disorder often have other co-existing psychiatric conditions such as anxiety (present in about 71% of people with bipolar disorder), substance use (56%), personality disorders (36%) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (10-20%) which can add to the burden of illness and worsen the prognosis. Certain medical conditions are also more common in people with bipolar disorder as compared to the general population. This includes increased rates of metabolic syndrome (present in 37% of people with bipolar disorder), migraine headaches (35%), obesity (21%) and type 2 diabetes (14%). This contributes to a risk of death that is two times higher in those with bipolar disorder as compared to the general population.

Substance abuse is a common comorbidity in bipolar disorder; the subject has been widely reviewed.


The causes of bipolar disorder likely vary between individuals and the exact mechanism underlying the disorder remains unclear. Genetic influences are believed to account for 73-93% of the risk of developing the disorder indicating a strong hereditary component. The overall heritability of the bipolar spectrum has been estimated at 0.71. Twin studies have been limited by relatively small sample sizes but have indicated a substantial genetic contribution, as well as environmental influence. For bipolar I disorder, the rate at which identical twins (same genes) will both have bipolar I disorder (concordance) is around 40%, compared to about 5% in fraternal twins. A combination of bipolar I, II, and cyclothymia similarly produced rates of 42% and 11% (identical and fraternal twins, respectively). The rates of bipolar II combinations without bipolar I are lower – bipolar II at 23 and 17%, and bipolar II combining with cyclothymia at 33 and 14% – , which may reflect relatively higher genetic heterogeneity.

The cause of bipolar disorders overlaps with major depressive disorder. When defining concordance as the co-twins having either bipolar disorder or major depression, then the concordance rate rises to 67% in identical twins and 19% in fraternal twins. The relatively low concordance between fraternal twins brought up together suggests that shared family environmental effects are limited, although the ability to detect them has been limited by small sample sizes.


Behavioural genetic studies have suggested that many chromosomal regions and candidate genes are related to bipolar disorder susceptibility with each gene exerting a mild to moderate effect. The risk of bipolar disorder is nearly ten-fold higher in first-degree relatives of those with bipolar disorder than in the general population; similarly, the risk of major depressive disorder is three times higher in relatives of those with bipolar disorder than in the general population.

Although the first genetic linkage finding for mania was in 1969, linkage studies have been inconsistent. Findings point strongly to heterogeneity, with different genes implicated in different families. Robust and replicable genome-wide significant associations showed several common single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) are associated with bipolar disorder, including variants within the genes CACNA1C, ODZ4, and NCAN. The largest and most recent genome-wide association study failed to find any locus that exerts a large effect, reinforcing the idea that no single gene is responsible for bipolar disorder in most cases. Polymorphisms in BDNF, DRD4, DAO, and TPH1 have been frequently associated with bipolar disorder and were initially associated in a meta-analysis, but this association disappeared after correction for multiple testing. On the other hand, two polymorphisms in TPH2 were identified as being associated with bipolar disorder.

Due to the inconsistent findings in a genome-wide association study, multiple studies have undertaken the approach of analysing SNPs in biological pathways. Signalling pathways traditionally associated with bipolar disorder that have been supported by these studies include corticotropin-releasing hormone signalling, cardiac β-adrenergic signalling, Phospholipase C signalling, glutamate receptor signalling, cardiac hypertrophy signalling, Wnt signalling, Notch signalling, and endothelin 1 signalling. Of the 16 genes identified in these pathways, three were found to be dysregulated in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex portion of the brain in post-mortem studies: CACNA1C, GNG2, and ITPR2.

Bipolar disorder is associated with reduced expression of specific DNA repair enzymes and increased levels of oxidative DNA damages.


Psychosocial factors play a significant role in the development and course of bipolar disorder, and individual psychosocial variables may interact with genetic dispositions. Recent life events and interpersonal relationships likely contribute to the onset and recurrence of bipolar mood episodes, just as they do for unipolar depression. In surveys, 30-50% of adults diagnosed with bipolar disorder report traumatic/abusive experiences in childhood, which is associated with earlier onset, a higher rate of suicide attempts, and more co-occurring disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder. The number of reported stressful events in childhood is higher in those with an adult diagnosis of bipolar spectrum disorder than in those without, particularly events stemming from a harsh environment rather than from the child’s own behaviour. Acutely, mania can be induced by sleep deprivation in around 30% of people with bipolar disorder.


Less commonly, bipolar disorder or a bipolar-like disorder may occur as a result of or in association with a neurological condition or injury including stroke, traumatic brain injury, HIV infection, multiple sclerosis, porphyria, and rarely temporal lobe epilepsy.

Proposed Mechanisms

Refer to Biology of Bipolar Disorder.

The precise mechanisms that cause bipolar disorder are not well understood. Bipolar disorder is thought to be associated with abnormalities in the structure and function of certain brain areas responsible for cognitive tasks and the processing of emotions. A neurologic model for bipolar disorder proposes that the emotional circuitry of the brain can be divided into two main parts. The ventral system (regulates emotional perception) includes brain structures such as the amygdala, insula, ventral striatum, ventral anterior cingulate cortex, and the prefrontal cortex. The dorsal system (responsible for emotional regulation) includes the hippocampus, dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, and other parts of the prefrontal cortex. The model hypothesizes that bipolar disorder may occur when the ventral system is overactivated and the dorsal system is underactivated. Other models suggest the ability to regulate emotions is disrupted in people with bipolar disorder and that dysfunction of the ventricular prefrontal cortex (vPFC) is crucial to this disruption.

Brain imaging studies have revealed differences in the volume of various brain regions between patients with bipolar disorder and healthy control subjects.

Meta-analyses of structural MRI studies have shown that certain brain regions (e.g. the left rostral anterior cingulate cortex, fronto-insular cortex, ventral prefrontal cortex, and claustrum) are smaller in people with bipolar disorder, whereas other regions are larger (lateral ventricles, globus pallidus, subgenual anterior cingulate, and the amygdala). Additionally, these meta-analyses found that people with bipolar disorder have higher rates of deep white matter hyperintensities.

Functional MRI findings suggest that the vPFC regulates the limbic system, especially the amygdala. In people with bipolar disorder, decreased vPFC activity allows for the dysregulated activity of the amygdala, which likely contributes to labile mood and poor emotional regulation. Consistent with this, pharmacological treatment of mania returns vPFC activity to the levels in non-manic people, suggesting that vPFC activity is an indicator of mood state. However, while pharmacological treatment of mania reduces amygdala hyperactivity, it remains more active than the amygdala of those without bipolar disorder, suggesting amygdala activity may be a marker of the disorder rather than the current mood state. Manic and depressive episodes tend to be characterised by dysfunction in different regions of the vPFC. Manic episodes appear to be associated with decreased activation of the right vPFC whereas depressive episodes are associated with decreased activation of the left vPFC.

People with bipolar disorder who are in a euthymic mood state show decreased activity in the lingual gyrus compared to people without bipolar disorder. In contrast, they demonstrate decreased activity in the inferior frontal cortex during manic episodes compared to people without the disorder. Similar studies examining the differences in brain activity between people with bipolar disorder and those without did not find a consistent area in the brain that was more or less active when comparing these two groups. People with bipolar have increased activation of left hemisphere ventral limbic areas – which mediate emotional experiences and generation of emotional responses – and decreased activation of right hemisphere cortical structures related to cognition – structures associated with the regulation of emotions.

Neuroscientists have proposed additional models to try to explain the cause of bipolar disorder. One proposed model for bipolar disorder suggests that hypersensitivity of reward circuits consisting of frontostriatal circuits causes mania, and decreased sensitivity of these circuits causes depression. According to the “kindling” hypothesis, when people who are genetically predisposed toward bipolar disorder experience stressful events, the stress threshold at which mood changes occur becomes progressively lower, until the episodes eventually start (and recur) spontaneously. There is evidence supporting an association between early-life stress and dysfunction of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis leading to its overactivation, which may play a role in the pathogenesis of bipolar disorder. Other brain components that have been proposed to play a role in bipolar disorder are the mitochondria and a sodium ATPase pump. Circadian rhythms and regulation of the hormone melatonin also seem to be altered.

Dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for mood cycling, has increased transmission during the manic phase. The dopamine hypothesis states that the increase in dopamine results in secondary homeostatic downregulation of key system elements and receptors such as lower sensitivity of dopaminergic receptors. This results in decreased dopamine transmission characteristic of the depressive phase. The depressive phase ends with homeostatic upregulation potentially restarting the cycle over again. Glutamate is significantly increased within the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex during the manic phase of bipolar disorder, and returns to normal levels once the phase is over.

Medications used to treat bipolar may exert their effect by modulating intracellular signalling, such as through depleting myo-inositol levels, inhibition of cAMP signalling, and through altering subunits of the dopamine-associated G-protein. Consistent with this, elevated levels of Gαi, Gαs, and Gαq/11 have been reported in brain and blood samples, along with increased protein kinase A (PKA) expression and sensitivity; typically, PKA activates as part of the intracellular signalling cascade downstream from the detachment of Gαs subunit from the G protein complex.

Decreased levels of 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid, a byproduct of serotonin, are present in the cerebrospinal fluid of persons with bipolar disorder during both the depressed and manic phases. Increased dopaminergic activity has been hypothesized in manic states due to the ability of dopamine agonists to stimulate mania in people with bipolar disorder. Decreased sensitivity of regulatory α2 adrenergic receptors as well as increased cell counts in the locus coeruleus indicated increased noradrenergic activity in manic people. Low plasma GABA levels on both sides of the mood spectrum have been found. One review found no difference in monoamine levels, but found abnormal norepinephrine turnover in people with bipolar disorder. Tyrosine depletion was found to reduce the effects of methamphetamine in people with bipolar disorder as well as symptoms of mania, implicating dopamine in mania. VMAT2 binding was found to be increased in one study of people with bipolar mania.


Bipolar disorder is commonly diagnosed during adolescence or early adulthood, but onset can occur throughout life. Its diagnosis is based on the self-reported experiences of the individual, abnormal behaviour reported by family members, friends or co-workers, observable signs of illness as assessed by a clinician, and ideally a medical work-up to rule out other causes. Caregiver-scored rating scales, specifically from the mother, have shown to be more accurate than teacher and youth-scored reports in identifying youths with bipolar disorder. Assessment is usually done on an outpatient basis; admission to an inpatient facility is considered if there is a risk to oneself or others.

The most widely used criteria for diagnosing bipolar disorder are from the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) and the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, 10th Edition (ICD-10). The ICD-10 criteria are used more often in clinical settings outside of the US while the DSM criteria are used within the US and are the prevailing criteria used internationally in research studies. The DSM-5, published in 2013, includes further and more accurate specifiers compared to its predecessor, the DSM-IV-TR. This work has influenced the upcoming eleventh revision of the ICD, which includes the various diagnoses within the bipolar spectrum of the DSM-V.

Several rating scales for the screening and evaluation of bipolar disorder exist, including the Bipolar spectrum diagnostic scale (BSDS), Mood Disorder Questionnaire (MDQ), the General Behaviour Inventory (GBI) and the Hypomania Checklist. The use of evaluation scales cannot substitute a full clinical interview but they serve to systematise the recollection of symptoms. On the other hand, instruments for screening bipolar disorder tend to have lower sensitivity.

Differential Diagnosis

Bipolar disorder is classified by the International Classification of Diseases as a mental and behavioural disorder. Mental disorders that can have symptoms similar to those seen in bipolar disorder include schizophrenia, major depressive disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and certain personality disorders, such as borderline personality disorder. A key difference between bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder is the nature of the mood swings; in contrast to the sustained changes to mood over days to weeks or longer, those of the latter condition (more accurately called emotional dysregulation) are sudden and often short-lived, and secondary to social stressors.

Although there are no biological tests that are diagnostic of bipolar disorder, blood tests and/or imaging are carried out to investigate whether medical illnesses with clinical presentations similar to that of bipolar disorder are present before making a definitive diagnosis. Neurologic diseases such as multiple sclerosis, complex partial seizures, strokes, brain tumours, Wilson’s disease, traumatic brain injury, Huntington’s disease, and complex migraines can mimic features of bipolar disorder. An EEG may be used to exclude neurological disorders such as epilepsy, and a CT scan or MRI of the head may be used to exclude brain lesions. Additionally, disorders of the endocrine system such as hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, and Cushing’s disease are in the differential as is the connective tissue disease systemic lupus erythematosus. Infectious causes of mania that may appear similar to bipolar mania include herpes encephalitis, HIV, influenza, or neurosyphilis. Certain vitamin deficiencies such as pellagra (niacin deficiency), Vitamin B12 deficiency, folate deficiency, and Wernicke Korsakoff syndrome (thiamine deficiency) can also lead to mania. Common medications that can cause manic symptoms include antidepressants, prednisone, Parkinson’s disease medications, thyroid hormone, stimulants (including cocaine and methamphetamine), and certain antibiotics.

Bipolar Spectrum

Bipolar spectrum disorders include: bipolar I disorder, bipolar II disorder, cyclothymic disorder and cases where subthreshold symptoms are found to cause clinically significant impairment or distress. These disorders involve major depressive episodes that alternate with manic or hypomanic episodes, or with mixed episodes that feature symptoms of both mood states. The concept of the bipolar spectrum is similar to that of Emil Kraepelin’s original concept of manic depressive illness. Bipolar II disorder was established as a diagnosis in 1994 within DSM IV; though debate continues over whether it is a distinct entity, part of a spectrum, or exists at all.

Criteria and Subtypes

The DSM and the ICD characterise bipolar disorder as a spectrum of disorders occurring on a continuum. The DSM-5 and ICD-11 lists three specific subtypes:

Bipolar I Disorder1. At least one manic episode is necessary to make the diagnosis; depressive episodes are common in the vast majority of cases with bipolar disorder I, but are unnecessary for the diagnosis.
2. Specifiers such as “mild, moderate, moderate-severe, severe” and “with psychotic features” should be added as applicable to indicate the presentation and course of the disorder.
Bipolar II Disorder1. No manic episodes and one or more hypomanic episodes and one or more major depressive episodes.
2. Hypomanic episodes do not go to the full extremes of mania (i.e. do not usually cause severe social or occupational impairment, and are without psychosis).
3. This can make bipolar II more difficult to diagnose, since the hypomanic episodes may simply appear as periods of successful high productivity and are reported less frequently than a distressing, crippling depression.
CyclothymiaA history of hypomanic episodes with periods of depression that do not meet criteria for major depressive episodes.

When relevant, specifiers for peripartum onset and with rapid cycling should be used with any subtype. Individuals who have subthreshold symptoms that cause clinically significant distress or impairment, but do not meet full criteria for one of the three subtypes may be diagnosed with other specified or unspecified bipolar disorder. Other specified bipolar disorder is used when a clinician chooses to explain why the full criteria were not met (e.g. hypomania without a prior major depressive episode). If the condition is thought to have a non-psychiatric medical cause, the diagnosis of bipolar and related disorder due to another medical condition is made, while substance/medication-induced bipolar and related disorder is used if a medication is thought to have triggered the condition.

Rapid Cycling

Most people who meet criteria for bipolar disorder experience a number of episodes, on average 0.4 to 0.7 per year, lasting three to six months. Rapid cycling, however, is a course specifier that may be applied to any bipolar subtype. It is defined as having four or more mood disturbance episodes within a one-year span. Rapid cycling is usually temporary but is common amongst people with bipolar disorder and affects between 25.8%-45.3% of them at some point in their life. These episodes are separated from each other by a remission (partial or full) for at least two months or a switch in mood polarity (i.e. from a depressive episode to a manic episode or vice versa). The definition of rapid cycling most frequently cited in the literature (including the DSM-V and ICD-11) is that of Dunner and Fieve: at least four major depressive, manic, hypomanic or mixed episodes during a 12-month period. The literature examining the pharmacological treatment of rapid cycling is sparse and there is no clear consensus with respect to its optimal pharmacological management. People with the rapid cycling or ultradian subtypes of bipolar disorder tend to be more difficult to treat and less responsive to medications than other people with bipolar disorder.


Refer to Bipolar Disorder in Children.

In the 1920s, Kraepelin noted that manic episodes are rare before puberty. In general, bipolar disorder in children was not recognised in the first half of the twentieth century. This issue diminished with an increased following of the DSM criteria in the last part of the twentieth century. The diagnosis of childhood bipolar disorder, while formerly controversial, has gained greater acceptance among childhood and adolescent psychiatrists. American children and adolescents diagnosed with bipolar disorder in community hospitals increased 4-fold reaching rates of up to 40% in 10 years around the beginning of the 21st century, while in outpatient clinics it doubled reaching 6%. Studies using DSM criteria show that up to 1% of youth may have bipolar disorder. The DSM-5 has established a diagnosis – disruptive mood dysregulation disorder – that covers children with long-term, persistent irritability that had at times been misdiagnosed as having bipolar disorder, distinct from irritability in bipolar disorder that is restricted to discrete mood episodes.


Bipolar disorder is uncommon in older patients, with a measured lifetime prevalence of 1% in over 60s and a 12-month prevalence of 0.1 to 0.5% in people over 65. Despite this, it is overrepresented in psychiatric admissions, making up 4 to 8% of inpatient admission to aged care psychiatry units, and the incidence of mood disorders is increasing overall with the aging population. Depressive episodes more commonly present with sleep disturbance, fatigue, hopelessness about the future, slowed thinking, and poor concentration and memory; the last three symptoms are seen in what is known as pseudodementia. Clinical features also differ between those with late-onset bipolar disorder and those who developed it early in life; the former group present with milder manic episodes, more prominent cognitive changes and have a background of worse psychosocial functioning, while the latter present more commonly with mixed affective episodes, and have a stronger family history of illness. Older people with bipolar disorder suffer cognitive changes, particularly in executive functions such as abstract thinking and switching cognitive sets, as well as concentrating for long periods and decision-making.


Attempts at prevention of bipolar disorder have focused on stress (such as childhood adversity or highly conflictual families) which, although not a diagnostically specific causal agent for bipolar, does place genetically and biologically vulnerable individuals at risk for a more severe course of illness. Longitudinal studies have indicated that full-blown manic stages are often preceded by a variety of prodromal clinical features, providing support for the occurrence of an at-risk state of the disorder when an early intervention might prevent its further development and/or improve its outcome.


The aim of management is to treat acute episodes safely with medication and work with the patient in long-term maintenance to prevent further episodes and optimise function using a combination of pharmacological and psychotherapeutic techniques. Hospitalisation may be required especially with the manic episodes present in bipolar I. This can be voluntary or (local legislation permitting) involuntary. Long-term inpatient stays are now less common due to deinstitutionalisation, although these can still occur. Following (or in lieu of) a hospital admission, support services available can include drop-in centres, visits from members of a community mental health team or an Assertive Community Treatment team, supported employment, patient-led support groups, and intensive outpatient programmes (IOP). These are sometimes referred to as partial-inpatient programmes.


Psychotherapy aims to assist a person with bipolar disorder in accepting and understanding their diagnosis, coping with various types of stress, improving their interpersonal relationships, and recognising prodromal symptoms before full-blown recurrence. Cognitive behavioural therapy, family-focused therapy, and psychoeducation have the most evidence for efficacy in regard to relapse prevention, while interpersonal and social rhythm therapy and cognitive-behavioural therapy appear the most effective in regard to residual depressive symptoms. Most studies have been based only on bipolar I, however, and treatment during the acute phase can be a particular challenge. Some clinicians emphasize the need to talk with individuals experiencing mania, to develop a therapeutic alliance in support of recovery.


Medications may differ depending on what episode is being treated. The medication with the best overall evidence is lithium, which is an effective treatment for acute manic episodes, preventing relapses, and bipolar depression. Lithium reduces the risk of suicide, self-harm, and death in people with bipolar disorder. Antipsychotics and mood stabilisers used together are quicker and more effective at treating mania than either class of drug used alone. Some analyses indicate antipsychotics alone are also more effective at treating acute mania. Mood stabilisers are used for long-term maintenance but have not demonstrated the ability to quickly treat acute bipolar depression. It is unclear if ketamine (a common general dissociative anaesthetic used in surgery) is useful in bipolar disorder.

Mood Stabilisers

Lithium and the anticonvulsants carbamazepine, lamotrigine, and valproic acid are classed as mood stabilisers due to their effect on the mood states in bipolar disorder. Lithium is preferred for long-term mood stabilisation, although it erodes kidney and thyroid function over extended periods. Valproate has become a commonly prescribed treatment and effectively treats manic episodes. Carbamazepine is less effective in preventing relapse than lithium or valproate. Lamotrigine has some efficacy in treating depression, and this benefit is greatest in more severe depression. It has also been shown to have some benefit in preventing bipolar disorder relapses, though there are concerns about the studies done, and is of no benefit in rapid cycling subtype of bipolar disorder. Valproate and carbamazepine are teratogenic and should be avoided as a treatment in women of childbearing age, but discontinuation of these medications during pregnancy is associated with a high risk of relapse. The effectiveness of topiramate is unknown. Carbamazepine effectively treats manic episodes, with some evidence it has greater benefit in rapid-cycling bipolar disorder, or those with more psychotic symptoms or more symptoms similar to that of schizoaffective disorder.


Antipsychotic medications are effective for short-term treatment of bipolar manic episodes and appear to be superior to lithium and anticonvulsants for this purpose. Atypical antipsychotics are also indicated for bipolar depression refractory to treatment with mood stabilisers. Olanzapine is effective in preventing relapses, although the supporting evidence is weaker than the evidence for lithium. A 2006 review found that haloperidol was an effective treatment for acute mania, limited data supported no difference in overall efficacy between haloperidol, olanzapine or risperidone, and that it could be less effective than aripiprazole.


Antidepressants are not recommended for use alone in the treatment of bipolar disorder and do not provide any benefit over mood stabilisers. Atypical antipsychotic medications (e.g. aripiprazole) are preferred over antidepressants to augment the effects of mood stabilisers due to the lack of efficacy of antidepressants in bipolar disorder. Treatment of bipolar disorder using antidepressants carries a risk of affective switches; where a person switches from depression to manic or hypomanic phases. The risk of affective switches is higher in bipolar I depression; antidepressants are generally avoided in bipolar I disorder or only used with mood stabilisers when they are deemed necessary. There is also a risk of accelerating cycling between phases when antidepressants are used in bipolar disorder.

Other Drugs

Short courses of benzodiazepines are used in addition to other medications for calming effect until mood stabilising become effective. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is an effective form of treatment for acute mood disturbances in those with bipolar disorder, especially when psychotic or catatonic features are displayed. ECT is also recommended for use in pregnant women with bipolar disorder.


Treating bipolar disorder in children involves medication and psychotherapy. The literature and research on the effects of psychosocial therapy on bipolar spectrum disorders are scarce, making it difficult to determine the efficacy of various therapies. Mood stabilisers and atypical antipsychotics are commonly prescribed. Among the former, lithium is the only compound approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for children. Psychological treatment combines normally education on the disease, group therapy, and cognitive behavioural therapy. Long-term medication is often needed.

Resistance to Treatment

The occurrence of poor response to treatment in has given support to the concept of resistance to treatment in bipolar disorder. Guidelines to the definition of such treatment resistance and evidence-based options for its management were reviewed in 2020.


A lifelong condition with periods of partial or full recovery in between recurrent episodes of relapse, bipolar disorder is considered to be a major health problem worldwide because of the increased rates of disability and premature mortality. It is also associated with co-occurring psychiatric and medical problems, higher rates of death from natural causes (e.g. cardiovascular disease), and high rates of initial under- or misdiagnosis, causing a delay in appropriate treatment and contributing to poorer prognoses. When compared to the general population, people with bipolar disorder also have higher rates of other serious medical comorbidities including diabetes mellitus, respiratory diseases, HIV, and Hepatitis C virus infection. After a diagnosis is made, it remains difficult to achieve complete remission of all symptoms with the currently available psychiatric medications and symptoms often become progressively more severe over time.

Compliance with medications is one of the most significant factors that can decrease the rate and severity of relapse and have a positive impact on overall prognosis. However, the types of medications used in treating BD commonly cause side effects and more than 75% of individuals with BD inconsistently take their medications for various reasons. Of the various types of the disorder, rapid cycling (four or more episodes in one year) is associated with the worst prognosis due to higher rates of self-harm and suicide. Individuals diagnosed with bipolar who have a family history of bipolar disorder are at a greater risk for more frequent manic/hypomanic episodes. Early onset and psychotic features are also associated with worse outcomes, as well as subtypes that are nonresponsive to lithium.

Early recognition and intervention also improve prognosis as the symptoms in earlier stages are less severe and more responsive to treatment. Onset after adolescence is connected to better prognoses for both genders, and being male is a protective factor against higher levels of depression. For women, better social functioning before developing bipolar disorder and being a parent are protective towards suicide attempts.


Changes in cognitive processes and abilities are seen in mood disorders, with those of bipolar disorder being greater than those in major depressive disorder. These include reduced attentional and executive capabilities and impaired memory. People with bipolar disorder often experience a decline in cognitive functioning during (or possibly before) their first episode, after which a certain degree of cognitive dysfunction typically becomes permanent, with more severe impairment during acute phases and moderate impairment during periods of remission. As a result, two-thirds of people with BD continue to experience impaired psychosocial functioning in between episodes even when their mood symptoms are in full remission. A similar pattern is seen in both BD-I and BD-II, but people with BD-II experience a lesser degree of impairment.

When bipolar disorder occurs in children, it severely and adversely affects their psychosocial development. Children and adolescents with bipolar disorder have higher rates of significant difficulties with substance abuse, psychosis, academic difficulties, behavioural problems, social difficulties, and legal problems. Cognitive deficits typically increase over the course of the illness. Higher degrees of impairment correlate with the number of previous manic episodes and hospitalisations, and with the presence of psychotic symptoms. Early intervention can slow the progression of cognitive impairment, while treatment at later stages can help reduce distress and negative consequences related to cognitive dysfunction.

Despite the overly ambitious goals that are frequently part of manic episodes, symptoms of mania undermine the ability to achieve these goals and often interfere with an individual’s social and occupational functioning. One-third of people with BD remain unemployed for one year following a hospitalisation for mania. Depressive symptoms during and between episodes, which occur much more frequently for most people than hypomanic or manic symptoms over the course of illness, are associated with lower functional recovery in between episodes, including unemployment or underemployment for both BD-I and BD-II. However, the course of illness (duration, age of onset, number of hospitalisations, and the presence or not of rapid cycling) and cognitive performance are the best predictors of employment outcomes in individuals with bipolar disorder, followed by symptoms of depression and years of education.

Recovery and Recurrence

A naturalistic study in 2003 by Tohen and coworkers from the first admission for mania or mixed episode (representing the hospitalised and therefore most severe cases) found that 50% achieved syndromal recovery (no longer meeting criteria for the diagnosis) within six weeks and 98% within two years. Within two years, 72% achieved symptomatic recovery (no symptoms at all) and 43% achieved functional recovery (regaining of prior occupational and residential status). However, 40% went on to experience a new episode of mania or depression within 2 years of syndromal recovery, and 19% switched phases without recovery.

Symptoms preceding a relapse (prodromal), especially those related to mania, can be reliably identified by people with bipolar disorder. There have been intents to teach patients coping strategies when noticing such symptoms with encouraging results.


Bipolar disorder can cause suicidal ideation that leads to suicide attempts. Individuals whose bipolar disorder begins with a depressive or mixed affective episode seem to have a poorer prognosis and an increased risk of suicide. One out of two people with bipolar disorder attempt suicide at least once during their lifetime and many attempts are successfully completed. The annual average suicide rate is 0.4%, which is 10-20 times that of the general population. The number of deaths from suicide in bipolar disorder is between 18 and 25 times higher than would be expected in similarly aged people without bipolar disorder. The lifetime risk of suicide has been estimated to be as high as 20% in those with bipolar disorder.

Risk factors for suicide attempts and death from suicide in people with bipolar disorder include older age, prior suicide attempts, a depressive or mixed index episode (first episode), a manic index episode with psychotic symptoms, hopelessness or psychomotor agitation present during the episodes, co-existing anxiety disorder, a first degree relative with a mood disorder or suicide, interpersonal conflicts, occupational problems, bereavement or social isolation.


Bipolar disorder is the sixth leading cause of disability worldwide and has a lifetime prevalence of about 1 to 3% in the general population. However, a reanalysis of data from the National Epidemiological Catchment Area survey in the United States suggested that 0.8% of the population experience a manic episode at least once (the diagnostic threshold for bipolar I) and a further 0.5% have a hypomanic episode (the diagnostic threshold for bipolar II or cyclothymia). Including sub-threshold diagnostic criteria, such as one or two symptoms over a short time-period, an additional 5.1% of the population, adding up to a total of 6.4%, were classified as having a bipolar spectrum disorder. A more recent analysis of data from a second US National Comorbidity Survey found that 1% met lifetime prevalence criteria for bipolar I, 1.1% for bipolar II, and 2.4% for subthreshold symptoms. Estimates vary about how many children and young adults have bipolar disorder. These estimates range from 0.6 to 15% depending on differing settings, methods, and referral settings, raising suspicions of overdiagnosis. One meta-analysis of bipolar disorder in young people worldwide estimated that about 1.8% of people between the ages of seven and 21 have bipolar disorder. Similar to adults, bipolar disorder in children and adolescents is thought to occur at a similar frequency in boys and girls.

There are conceptual and methodological limitations and variations in the findings. Prevalence studies of bipolar disorder are typically carried out by lay interviewers who follow fully structured/fixed interview schemes; responses to single items from such interviews may suffer limited validity. In addition, diagnoses (and therefore estimates of prevalence) vary depending on whether a categorical or spectrum approach is used. This consideration has led to concerns about the potential for both under-diagnosis and overdiagnosis.

The incidence of bipolar disorder is similar in men and women as well as across different cultures and ethnic groups. A 2000 study by the World Health Organisation found that prevalence and incidence of bipolar disorder are very similar across the world. Age-standardised prevalence per 100,000 ranged from 421.0 in South Asia to 481.7 in Africa and Europe for men and from 450.3 in Africa and Europe to 491.6 in Oceania for women. However, severity may differ widely across the globe. Disability-adjusted life year rates, for example, appear to be higher in developing countries, where medical coverage may be poorer and medication less available. Within the United States, Asian Americans have significantly lower rates than their African American and European American counterparts. In 2017, the Global Burden of Disease Study estimated there were 4.5 million new cases and a total of 45.5 million cases globally.

Society and Culture


The United States spent approximately $202.1 billion on people diagnosed with bipolar I disorder (excluding other subtypes of bipolar disorder and undiagnosed people) in 2015. One analysis estimated that the United Kingdom spent approximately £5.2 billion on the disorder in 2007. In addition to the economic costs, bipolar disorder is a leading cause of disability and lost productivity worldwide. People with bipolar disorder are generally more disabled, have a lower level of functioning, longer duration of illness, and increased rates of work absenteeism and decreased productivity when compared to people experiencing other mental health disorders. The decrease in the productivity seen in those who care for people with bipolar disorder also significantly contributes to these costs.


There are widespread issues with social stigma, stereotypes, and prejudice against individuals with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. In 2000, actress Carrie Fisher went public with her bipolar disorder diagnosis. She became one of the most well-recognized advocates for people with bipolar disorder in the public eye and fiercely advocated to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder. Stephen Fried, who has written extensively on the topic, noted that Fisher helped to draw attention to the disorder’s chronicity, relapsing nature, and that bipolar disorder relapses do not indicate a lack of discipline or moral shortcomings. Since being diagnosed at age 37, actor Stephen Fry has pushed to raise awareness of the condition, with his 2006 documentary Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive. In an effort to ease the social stigma associated with bipolar disorder, the orchestra conductor Ronald Braunstein cofounded the ME/2 Orchestra with his wife Caroline Whiddon in 2011. Braunstein was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1985 and his concerts with the ME/2 Orchestra were conceived in order to create a welcoming performance environment for his musical colleagues, while also raising public awareness about mental illness.

Notable Cases

Numerous authors have written about bipolar disorder and many successful people have openly discussed their experience with it. Kay Redfield Jamison, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, profiled her own bipolar disorder in her memoir An Unquiet Mind (1995). Several celebrities have also publicly shared that they have bipolar disorder; in addition to Carrie Fisher and Stephen Fry these include Catherine Zeta-Jones, Mariah Carey, Kanye West, Jane Pauley, Demi Lovato, and Selena Gomez.

Media Portrayals

Several dramatic works have portrayed characters with traits suggestive of the diagnosis which have been the subject of discussion by psychiatrists and film experts alike.

In Mr. Jones (1993), (Richard Gere) swings from a manic episode into a depressive phase and back again, spending time in a psychiatric hospital and displaying many of the features of the syndrome. In The Mosquito Coast (1986), Allie Fox (Harrison Ford) displays some features including recklessness, grandiosity, increased goal-directed activity and mood lability, as well as some paranoia. Psychiatrists have suggested that Willy Loman, the main character in Arthur Miller’s classic play Death of a Salesman, has bipolar disorder.

The 2009 drama 90210 featured a character, Silver, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Stacey Slater, a character from the BBC soap EastEnders, has been diagnosed with the disorder. The storyline was developed as part of the BBC’s Headroom campaign.[198] The Channel 4 soap Brookside had earlier featured a story about bipolar disorder when the character Jimmy Corkhill was diagnosed with the condition. 2011 Showtime’s political thriller drama Homeland protagonist Carrie Mathison has bipolar disorder, which she has kept secret since her school days. The 2014 ABC medical drama, Black Box, featured a world-renowned neuroscientist with bipolar disorder. In the TV series Dave, the eponymous main character, played by Lil Dicky as a fictionalised version of himself, is an aspiring rapper. Lil Dicky’s real-life hype man GaTa also plays himself. In one episode, after being off his medication and having an episode, GaTa tearfully confesses to having bipolar disorder. GaTa has bipolar disorder in real life but, like his character in the show, he is able to manage it with medication.


A link between mental illness and professional success or creativity has been suggested, including in accounts by Socrates, Seneca the Younger, and Cesare Lombroso. Despite prominence in popular culture, the link between creativity and bipolar has not been rigorously studied. This area of study also is likely affected by confirmation bias. Some evidence suggests that some heritable component of bipolar disorder overlaps with heritable components of creativity. Probands of people with bipolar disorder are more likely to be professionally successful, as well as to demonstrate temperamental traits similar to bipolar disorder. Furthermore, while studies of the frequency of bipolar disorder in creative population samples have been conflicting, full-blown bipolar disorder in creative samples is rare.


Research directions for bipolar disorder in children include optimising treatments, increasing the knowledge of the genetic and neurobiological basis of the paediatric disorder and improving diagnostic criteria. Some treatment research suggests that psychosocial interventions that involve the family, psychoeducation, and skills building (through therapies such as CBT, DBT, and IPSRT) can benefit in addition to pharmocotherapy.

What is the Mood Disorder Questionnaire?


The Mood Disorder Questionnaire (MDQ) is a self-report questionnaire designed to help detect bipolar disorder.

It focuses on symptoms of hypomania and mania, which are the mood states that separate bipolar disorders from other types of depression and mood disorder. It has 5 main questions, and the first question has 13 parts, for a total of 17 questions. The MDQ was originally tested with adults, but it also has been studied in adolescents ages 11 years and above. It takes approximately 5-10 minutes to complete. In 2006, a parent-report version was created to allow for assessment of bipolar symptoms in children or adolescents from a caregiver perspective, with the research looking at youths as young as 5 years old.

The MDQ has become one of the most widely studied and used questionnaires for bipolar disorder, and it has been translated into more than a dozen languages.


The MDQ was developed as a screening tool for bipolar disorder, and assesses symptoms of mania and hypomania It was developed in the hopes that it would reduce the mis-diagnosis and delayed diagnosis of bipolar disorder. The first 13 items on the measure ask about any manic/hypomanic symptoms that may have occurred during one’s lifetime. These items are based on the DSM-IV criteria for bipolar disorder. Additional items then ask if these symptoms have happened during the same period of time (an “episode”), and how severely these symptoms affected functioning (assessing impairment).

In developing this tool, the MDQ was administered to a group of bipolar patients to assess feasibility and face validity, leading to revision of the items. Following this initial study, researchers have assessed psychometric properties of the MDQ, finding that the measure possesses adequate internal consistency. The measure has also demonstrated fair sensitivity in several studies, although sensitivity may be greater in inpatient versus community settings. First built for use in adults, it has been translated into many languages and tested in a range of different settings. Researchers also have studied whether parents could use this to provide useful information about their child or adolescent. Meta-analyses have found that the MDQ is one of the best self-report tools for assessing hypomania or mania in adults, and the parent report version is one of the three best options available for parents to use about their children.


One limitation of the MDQ is that it has shown higher sensitivity when detecting bipolar I compared to other bipolar spectrum disorders. It is much less sensitive to bipolar II, often missing more than half of the cases with this diagnosis when using the recommended algorithm. Additionally, the sensitivity and specificity of the MDQ has been shown to differ by the use of a standard vs. modified cutoff (i.e. simplifies the cutoff to be based only on symptom endorsement, rather than impairment). Sensitivity and specificity of the MDQ also depend on study inclusion and exclusion criteria. Including more severe cases will increase the apparent sensitivity, because it is more likely that they will have high scores. Including healthy controls or people who are not seeking services will exaggerate the specificity of the test, as these individuals are unlikely to have manic symptoms and will score very low on the measure as a result.

Another major limitation of the MDQ is that it is not to be sensitive to treatment effects. It asks about lifetime history of symptoms, which is a strength for screening and detection, but a weakness for measuring the current severity of mood symptoms. The MDQ also uses a yes/no format for the symptoms, rather than asking about the severity of each. Other rating scales are more useful for measuring severity and treatment outcomes.

Additionally, self-report measures have some disadvantages, including bias that can stem from social desirability and demand characteristics.