This site is intended for healthcare professionals
Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder characterised by both depressive episodes and periods of experiencing unusually high energy, euphoria or restlessness.
The energetic periods are often referred to as manic episodes, and bipolar disorder used to be called manic depression.
Just when you think everything is going well you experience a mood swing and it tips your balance and requires input from your psychiatrist and lifestyle changes.
Each depressive or manic episode usually lasts for a long period of time, months and weeks rather than hours or days.
With an illness as unpredictable as bipolar there will always be knock backs, but you have to learn from each episode and be armed for when it happens again, acting faster on your early warning signs and putting steps in place to ease the severity of the mood swing and maintain the balance to move forward in obtaining further recovery.
Bipolar disorder has different types, and these are usually defined by the frequency and extremity of mood disturbance and manic episodes.
How common is bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder is diagnosed in about 1 in 100 adults in the UK.
This figure accounts for people with a diagnosis, but bipolar disorder can often take longer to be recognised that other mental health conditions due to its complexity and the fact that it occurs in episodes, often with a full recovery between periods of illness.
Sometimes, bipolar disorder can be misdiagnosed as pure depression , or other episodic disorders, such as seasonal effective disorder.
This means that people often live with the condition for a long time before gaining a diagnosis.
Society’s attitude towards bipolar disorder
Bipolar disorder is becoming more widely understood in the UK, and storylines such as that of Stacey and her mother Jean in EastEnders, and celebrities like Stephen Fry and Frank Bruno speaking out about their own experiences of bipolar illness, have helped more people to recognise the name of the disorder.
That said, there are still a lot of myths surrounding bipolar, and sadly, there is still a lot of work to be done around the stigma that can be attached to this diagnosis.
A common myth is that people love the ‘highs’ that they experience in bipolar and will avoid taking their medication so they can still experience this euphoria.
While this is true for some individuals, for many the mania is as distressing and damaging, if not more so in some cases, as the depressive lows.
Mania is not always pleasant, it can be scary, and can sometimes manifest as extreme anxiety and a total inability to rest.
Not everyone in a manic state experiences euphoria, and even if they do, the consequences following their disinhibited actions can be hard to deal with.