Word on Health

Word on Bipolar Disorder

Our grateful thanks to Bipolar UK for their contribution to our on-air report, which you can hear again further down this page via our audio player - we also have an extended interview with Bipolar UK's CEO on our monthly podcast - which you can access here. We'd also like to say a huge thank you to the NHS for the use of the information below, as a brief overview - find out more on the NHS website by following this link. 

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that affects your moods, which can swing from 1 extreme to another. It used to be known as manic depression.

Symptoms of bipolar disorder. People with bipolar disorder have episodes of:

  • depression – feeling very low and lethargic
  • mania – feeling very high and overactive

Symptoms depend on which mood you're experiencing. Unlike simple mood swings, each extreme episode of bipolar disorder can last for several weeks or longer.

Depression  You may initially be diagnosed with clinical depression before you have a manic episode (sometimes years later), after which you may be diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

During an episode of depression, you may have overwhelming feelings of worthlessness, which can potentially lead to thoughts of suicide. If you're feeling suicidal, click here to find out where to get urgent help. 

If you're feeling very depressed, please reach out to your GP, your care co-ordinator or speak to a local mental health crisis team as soon as possible.

Find a local NHS urgent mental health helpline. If you've already been given a crisis line number to use in an emergency, it's best to call it.

You could also call NHS 111 if you're not sure what to do or if you cannot speak to your local NHS urgent mental health helpline.

If you want to talk to someone confidentially, without fear of being judged  call the Samaritans free on 116 123. You can talk to them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week or visit the Samaritans website or email jo@samaritans.org.

Text "SHOUT" to 85258 to contact the Shout Crisis Text Line, or text "YM" if you're under 19

If you're under 19, you can also call 0800 1111 to talk to Childline. The number will not appear on your phone bill.

You are not wasting anyone's time - there are people who want to listen - you are not alone.

Mania.  During a manic phase of bipolar disorder, you may:

  • feel very happy
  • have lots of energy, ambitious plans and ideas
  • spend large amounts of money on things you cannot afford and would not normally want

It's also common to:

  • not feel like eating or sleeping
  • talk quickly
  • become annoyed easily
  • You may feel very creative and view the manic phase of bipolar as a positive experience.

But you may also experience symptoms of psychosis, where you see or hear things that are not there or become convinced of things that are not true.

Treatments for bipolar disorder. The high and low phases of bipolar disorder are often so extreme that they interfere with everyday life.m But there are several options for treating bipolar disorder that can make a difference.

They aim to control the effects of an episode and help someone with bipolar disorder live life as normally as possible.

The following treatment options are available:

  • medicine to prevent episodes of mania and depression – these are known as mood stabilisers, and you take them every day on a long-term basis
  • medicine to treat the main symptoms of depression and mania when they happen
  • learning to recognise the triggers and signs of an episode of depression or mania
  • psychological treatment – such as talking therapy, which can help you deal with depression, and provides advice about how to improve your relationships
  • lifestyle advice – such as doing regular exercise, planning activities you enjoy that give you a sense of achievement, as well as advice on improving your diet and getting more sleep.

It's thought using a combination of different treatment methods is the best way to control bipolar disorder.

What causes bipolar disorder?  The exact cause of bipolar disorder is unknown, although it's believed a number of things can trigger an episode. These include:

  • extreme stress
  • overwhelming problems
  • life-changing events
  • genetic and chemical factors

Who's affected? Bipolar disorder is fairly common, and 1 in every 100 people will be diagnosed with it at some point in their life. Bipolar disorder can occur at any age, although it often develops between the ages of 15 and 19 and rarely develops after 40. Men and women from all backgrounds are equally likely to develop bipolar disorder.

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

Living with - Bipolar disorder.  Although it's usually a long-term condition, effective treatments for bipolar disorder, combined with self-help techniques, can limit its impact on your everyday life.

Self-management programmes aim to help you take an active part in your own recovery so you're not controlled by your illness.Courses like those run by Self Management UK for mild to moderate mental health conditions may be helpful if you feel distressed and uncertain about bipolar disorder.

It's important to avoid too much stress, including work-related stress. If you're employed, you may be able to work shorter hours or in a more flexible way, particularly if job pressure triggers your symptoms.

Employers must make reasonable adjustments to make the employment of people with disabilities possible. This includes people with bipolar disorder. A range of benefits is available to you if you cannot work as a result of bipolar disorder.

Stay active and eat well. Eating well and keeping fit can help reduce the symptoms of bipolar disorder, particularly the depressive symptoms. It may also give you something to focus on and provide a routine, which is important for many people.A healthy diet, combined with exercise, may also help limit weight gain, which is a common side effect of medical treatments for bipolar disorder. Some treatments also increase the risk of developing diabetes, or worsen the illness in people that already have it. Maintaining a healthy weight and exercising are an important way of limiting that risk.

As we heard from the CEO of Bipolar UK - make sure you get adequate sleep - 7/8 hours a day.

Avoid drugs and alcohol. Some people with bipolar disorder use alcohol or illegal drugs to try to ease their distress. Both have well-known harmful physical and social effects, and are not a substitute for treatment and good healthcare. Some people with bipolar disorder find they can stop misusing alcohol and drugs once they're using effective treatment. Others may have separate but related problems of alcohol and drug misuse, which may need to be treated separately. Avoiding alcohol and illegal drugs is an important part of recovery from episodes of manic or depressive symptoms, and can help you gain stability.

Talking therapies are useful for managing bipolar disorder, particularly during periods of stability. You may be involved with many different services during treatment for bipolar disorder. Some are accessed through referral from your GP, others through your local authority.

Talk about it.  Some people with bipolar disorder find it easy to talk to family and friends about their condition and its effects. Other people find it easier to turn to charities and support groups. Many organisations run self-help groups that can put you in touch with other people with the condition.

Help and advice for people with a long-term condition or their carers is available from charities, support groups and associations - links below.  

Bipolar UK

Carers UK





Bipolar disorder and pregnancy.  Bipolar disorder, like all other mental health problems, can get worse during pregnancy. But specialist help is available if you need it. Find out more about bipolar disorder in pregnancy via the NHS website.

Bipolar disorder and driving.  If you have bipolar disorder, it may affect your driving. You must inform the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA).

Listen to this weeks radio report

All material on this website is provided for your information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being.