Bipolar disorder


People with bipolar disorder experience extreme emotional highs and lows and may sometimes have trouble controlling their emotions. For instance, they may react to daily events with deep sadness or extreme joy.

People with bipolar disorder go through periods with wide mood swings. These periods are called “episodes”. The frequency, duration and intensity of these episodes vary from person to person. Some people with bipolar disorder may have a hard time fulfilling their professional, family and social obligations. However, these episodes may be interspersed with periods in which their mood is “normal”.

The two characteristics types of episodes in bipolar disorder are:

Signs and symptoms

Manic episodes are characterized by the continuous presence (at least one week) of several of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Intense happiness and joy or, conversely, excessive irritability
  • Hyperactivity, agitation and overflowing energy
  • Exaggerated sense of self-importance or grandiose ideas. For example, exaggerated sense of power, knowledge, identity or privileged relationships
  • Increased talkativeness: talking nonstop or interrupting others, for example
  • Significant increase in the number of professional, academic, social or family activities
  • Decreased need for sleep; feeling rested after just 3 hours of sleep, for example
  • Racing thoughts: the mind quickly jumping from one idea to the next or losing their train of thought
  • Great distractibility: beeing unable to pay attention to the task or topic at hand
  • Risky behaviour that procures pleasure, such as impulsebuying, hasty or risky financial investments or reckless sexual behaviour

Episodes of depression are characterized by the continuous presence (at least two weeks) of several of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Profound sadness: frequent bouts of crying, for instance
  • Significant loss of interest in professional, social and family activities
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of energy or severe agitation
  • Sleep problems: getting too much or not enough sleep
  • Decreased or increased appetite, potentially leading to weight loss or gain
  • Feeling of guilt or failure
  • Decreased self-esteem
  • Difficulty concentrating on tasks
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Suicidal thoughts

These signs and symptoms lead to difficulty with daily.

People may lose touch with reality and experience symptoms associated with psychotic disorders during an episode of depression, or more commonly, during a manic episode. They may, for example, hear voices or have delusions.

When to seek help

Do not wait until you are no longer able to function before asking for help. If you have symptoms, you can contact mental health organization or association which can provide information and offer help and support. Read the section Help and resources to find out what resources are available.

See your family doctor or another health professional if:

  • You are experiencing distress.
  • Your symptoms are preventing you from functioning normally.
  • You are having difficulty fulfilling your professional, family or social obligations.

A health professional can assess whether you have bipolar disorder or another health problem with similar symptoms. To properly evaluate your condition, they may need to perform a physical exam or order laboratory tests. You will be offered a treatment plan that is adapted to your needs.

If you are having suicidal thoughts and fear for your safety or that of the people around you, see the page Preventing suicide. You will find further information on available help and resources.

Care and services

Treatments with recognized effectiveness are available, along with psychosocial interventions that allow people to improve their daily functioning and personal balance. Treatments relieve the symptoms of bipolar disorderand help people regain control over their lives and daily activities. The earlier people seek help, the better their chances of recovery.

In most cases, bipolar disorder is treated with psychological interventions (psycho-education, problem solving, cognitive-behavioural therapy, etc.) and medication.

Taking part in complementary interventions aimed at healthy living or stress management, or joining a support group can also be helpful.

For more information, see the section Care and services on the page Mood disorders.

Related issues

Given the daily living challenges that people with bipolar disorder grapple with, they may also experience other problems, including:

These difficulties can be compounded by the stigma surrounding mental illness and can impact the loved ones of people with bipolar disorder.

Stigma and prejudice

People with bipolar disorder sometimes prey both to their own prejudice and to that of society. This discourages them from asking for help or continuing their treatment. To learn more about stigma, its impact and how to fight against it, visit the page Fighting the stigma surrounding mental disorders.

Impact on loved ones

The loved ones of people with bipolar disorder can be deeply affected by the situation. They may need information to fully understand this disorder and to communicate better with them, or may themselves need support.

To find out more, see the section Support for the family members and friends of people living with mental disorders or the page Living with a person with a mental disorder.

Mental health 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 or eliminate certain risk factors associated with mental disorders.

Risk factors

There is no single cause for bipolar disorder. Rather, it is often the result of a combination of several factors. Here are a few of these factors:

  • Biological factors: heredity, that is, other family members have or have had it
  • Social factors: the presence of stressors in the person’s life
  • Environmental factors: alcohol and drug abuse and addiction.

Recent studies on the causes of bipolar disorder suggest that it is the result of a biochemical imbalance in the brain combined with a person’s emotional and physical vulnerability to stress.

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.

Help and resources

To find information and support resources, or to obtain care and services for bipolar disorder, refer to the page Mental health help and support resources.

Last update: February 2, 2024


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