Bipolar Disorder

There are many types of mental disorders: anxiety disorders, eating disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, social phobia, autism, personality disorders and schizophrenia. There are also a number of mood disorders, including bipolar disorder.

Symptoms of this mental illness are divided between two distinct stages, or mood episodes, that result in intense swings in mood, energy and activity levels.

The manic phase is characterized by a period of extremely elevated mood, rapid speech, risky behaviors, problems sleeping, difficulty concentrating and irritability.

The depressive stage is distinguished by extreme sadness, lack of interest in normal activities, feelings of hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, forgetfulness, crying easily and change in appetite.

Symptoms of bipolar disorder are severe and can interfere with a person’s ability to function on a day-to-day basis. It is different from the average ups and downs that most people experience from time to time. Bipolar disorder can cause irreparable damage to relationships and problems at work and can negatively impact school performance. There is no cure for this chronic mental illness, but it can be successfully managed.

Diagnosing bipolar disorder starts with talking to a doctor who may perform a physical examination, take a medical history and conduct lab tests to rule out any underlying physical conditions. Other illnesses that may co-exist with bipolar disorder include substance abuse, thyroid disease, migraine headaches, diabetes, obesity and other mental disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder, social phobia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The existence of other illnesses can make the diagnosis of bipolar disorder difficult. That is why it is important for those with the condition to monitor their physical and mental health and talk with their doctor about their symptoms.

Effective, long-term treatment for bipolar disorder involves medication and psychotherapy to prevent relapse and reduce the severity of symptoms. Medications that may be prescribed include mood stabilizing drugs, atypical antipsychotic medications and antidepressants. Because medications affect different people different ways, various drugs may be tried before the most effective one is determined. Patients should speak with their doctor if the medications cause any side effects and not discontinue taking them unless directed by a physician.

There are several forms of psychotherapy that can help patients with bipolar disorder. In cognitive behavior therapy, people learn how to change harmful thought patterns and behaviors. Family-focused therapy involves relatives and improves coping strategies for the family.

Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy helps people with bipolar disorder manage their daily activities. Psychoeducation teaches patients about the disorder so they can recognize the early warning signs of a relapse and seek help before symptoms worsen.

Bipolar disorder is best treated on an ongoing basis. People with bipolar disorder should get enough rest, take their medications, talk with their doctor about symptoms and maintain a regular routine. For more information about bipolar disorder, talk with your doctor or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website at

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