All of us experience emotions such as anger, sadness and joy. We can usually control our emotions and are able to manage them daily.
People suffering from bipolar disorder experience their emotions with dramatic intensity and can sometimes have trouble controlling them. For instance, they can experience daily events with deep sadness or extreme joy.
The frequency, duration and intensity of these emotions vary from person to person and impact the way each one thinks and reacts. Some people with bipolar disorder have a hard time fulfilling their professional, family and social obligations.
People with bipolar disorder experience periods in which their moods are very different. These periods are called “episodes”. 2 types of episodes characterize bipolar disorder:
- Manic episodes (periods of euphoria or heightened excitement)
- Episodes of depression
Signs and symptoms
Manic episodes are characterized by a continuous presence (at least 1 week) of several of the following signs and symptoms:
- Intense happiness and joy or, conversely, excessive irritability
- Hyperactivity, agitation and overflowing energy
- Grandiose ideas. An exaggerated sense of self-importance, for example
- Accelerated speaking rate. Talks nonstop or interrupts others, for example
- Significant increase in number of professional, academic, social or family activities
- Decreased need for sleep. Feels rested after just 3 hours of sleep, for example
- Racing thoughts. Jumps quickly from one idea to the next or gets lost in thought
- Impaired judgment
- Great distraction. The person is unable to concentrate on one subject
- Risky behaviour that procures pleasure, such as impulsive purchases, hasty or risky financial investments or risky sexual behaviour
Episodes of depression are characterized by a continuous presence (at least 2 weeks) of several of the following signs and symptoms:
- Lack of energy and severe agitation
- Sleep problems: too much sleep or not enough
- Decrease or increase in appetite, which can lead to weight loss or gain
- Decrease or loss of sexual interest
- Appearance of ailments, such as headaches and back and stomach pain
- Profound sadness. Cries often, for instance
- Significant loss of interest in professional, social and family activities
- Feeling of guilt or failure
- Decrease in self-esteem
- Difficulty concentrating on tasks
- Difficulty making decisions
- Suicidal thoughts
During episodes of depression, the person can lose touch with reality and experience symptoms associated with psychotic disorders, such as delusions or hearing voices.
When to consult
Do not wait until you are no longer able to function before consulting. If you have symptoms, there are mental health organizations and associations that can provide information and offer help and support. Read the Help and resources section to find out what resources are available.
See your family doctor or another health professional if:
- You are experiencing distress
- Your symptoms prevent you from functioning normally.
- You have difficulty accomplishing your professional, family or social responsibilities.
A health professional can assess if you are suffering from bipolar disorder or experiencing another health problem with similar symptoms. To properly evaluate your condition, it might be necessary to conduct a physical exam or laboratory tests. You will be offered a treatment plan that is adapted to your needs.
If you have suicidal thoughts and fear for your safety or that of people around you, read Preventing suicide. You will find further information on available help and resources.
Bipolar disorder can be treated with treatments and psychosocial interventions that allow you to improve daily functioning and personal balance. As such, people suffering from bipolar disorder can regain control of their lives and daily activities. The earlier you consult, the better your chances of recovery.
In most cases, bipolar disorder is treated with psychotherapy, medication or a combination of the two.
Cognitive behavioural therapy is usually effective. This form of psychotherapy aims to change a person’s thoughts and problematic behaviour and replace them with thoughts and responses that are appropriate to reality. It also helps with establishing rehabilitation strategies to regain balance.
Being part of a support group for people with bipolar disorder and their loved ones helps overcome difficulties experienced due to the illness.
Medication for bipolar disorder
Mood stabilizers and antidepressants are drugs that restore the brain’s chemical balance. They decrease the intensity of physical symptoms and help with:
Depending on symptoms and their severity, some individuals may have to take antipsychotics.
Recommendations regarding medication
If your doctor prescribes medication, it is important that you follow the instructions carefully.
You must also be patient in waiting for results. It can take anywhere from 4 to 8 weeks before the medication produces maximum results.
Even if you feel better, you must continue the treatment as prescribed in order to avoid the reoccurrence of symptoms.
If you experience undesirable side effects, discuss them with your pharmacist or doctor as soon as possible. If necessary, your medication can be adjusted or other medication may be recommended.
Protection and prevention
Bipolar disorder is not always preventable, but if you have symptoms associated with it, you should act immediately. The tips for maintaining good mental health will help you change certain lifestyle habits. These changes will not heal you, but they will help improve your health and reduce the number of factors that worsen or influence your condition.
Bipolar disorder doesn’t always have a single cause. It is often a combination of several factors. Here are a few of these factors:
- Biological factors: heredity, meaning that other family members have the illness or have suffered from it in the past.
- Social factors: the presence of stress in the person’s life.
- Environmental factors: alcohol and drug abuse and addiction.
People at risk
Bipolar disorder affects about 1% of the population. It usually begins in adolescence or early adulthood.
Bipolar disorder can affect anyone, regardless of age, sex, social status, education, nationality or ethnic origin.
People with bipolar disorder are sometimes victims of their own prejudices and those of society. These prejudices discourage people from seeking help or continuing their treatment. To learn more about prejudices and how to fight them, read Fighting the stigma surrounding mental illness.
Help and resources
Information and support resources
Resources are available for help and to obtain more information about bipolar disorder:
- Revivre – Quebec Anxiety, Depressive and Bipolar Disorder Support Association
- Tel-jeunes (Helpline for young people between the ages of 5 and 20): 1 800 263-2266
- Suicide-prevention helpline: 1 866 APPELLE or 1 866 277-3553
- Réseau avant de craquer – Fédération d’organismes voués au mieux-être de l’entourage d’une personne atteinte de maladie mentale (in French only)
- Canadian Mental Health Association
- Mouvement Santé mentale Québec (in French only)
- Association des médecins psychiatres du Québec (in French only)
You can also consult the Mental Illness page for more available resources.
Resources for care and services
To receive care or services, or to find a psychotherapist with whom you feel comfortable, contact one of the following resources:
Last update: October 30, 2018