Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition with its hallmark being extreme mood swings that include emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression). These mood swings can affect sleep, energy, activity, judgment, behavior, and the ability to think clearly. Episodes of mood swings may occur rarely or multiple times a year.

Bipolar disorder most frequently is diagnosed in late adolescence or early adulthood but can occur at any point in life. Although bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition, you can manage your mood swings and other symptoms by following a treatment plan. In most cases, bipolar disorder is treated with medications and psychotherapy.

Manic episodes

In manic or hypomanic (less extreme than mania) episodes, you may feel euphoric, full of energy, or even unusually irritable. These episodes can leave people feeling high-energy but unhappy, angry, and impatient.

Signs of manic episodes:

  • Feeling elated and happy, or irritable and touchy
  • Feeling jumpy or wired
  • Having racing thoughts
  • Needing less sleep
  • Talking fast and in disconnected ways
  • Craving lots of food, alcohol, sex, or other pleasures
  • Increasing impulsive choices or behaviors that put you or others at risk of harm
  • Wanting to do lots of things at once
  • Feeling unusually important, talented, or powerful

Depressive episodes

When you become depressed, you may feel sad or hopeless and lose interest or pleasure in most activities. Bipolar depression episodes are similar to unipolar depression, except bipolar depression alternates with manic episodes.

Signs of depressive episodes:

  • Feeling sad or anxious
  • Feeling slow or restless
  • Having trouble concentrating
  • Having trouble sleeping or sleeping an unusual amount
  • Talking very slowly or forgetting things
  • Feeling little interest in usually enjoyable things  
  • Feeling unable to complete simple tasks
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless


Treatment of bipolar disorder typically involves medication and psychotherapy, which can improve your sleep, anxiety, and moods. Treating this disorder can take time, and it’s important to stick with the treatment even when feeling better. This includes taking medications as prescribed and keeping your appointments.

Because bipolar disorder has many symptoms in common with other mental health disorders, some people may go many years before being diagnosed. If you or your family think you have more significant symptoms that may be part of bipolar disorder, your primary care provider may refer you to a psychiatrist for evaluation and treatment. 

For those with bipolar disorder, a structured routine and healthy habits can make a difference in daily life. So can the support of family and friends. Ask for help in keeping up with your treatment if necessary. Remember that although bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition, ongoing treatment can help control symptoms and help you live a healthy life.