Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a serious psychological illness in which normal emotions become intensely and often erratically exaggerated.

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Definition of Bipolar

Bipolar disorder is a serious psychological illness in which normal emotions become intensely and often erratically exaggerated. Those who are affected by this condition can rapidly shift from extremes of happiness, energy and clarity to extreme sadness, gloom, fatigue and even confusion.

In some instances, these rapid shifts from one emotion, to another opposite one may be so devastating that those affected may develop suicidal thoughts.

Although not all who are affected become depressed, or suicidal, all affected with his disorder usually experience abnormally high moods or irritability that may even last for a week resulting in the person not being able to function normally.

Those affected go through mood episodes (strong emotional feelings or states that usually happen during distinct periods of days to even weeks). This disorder has been depicted to commence in adolescence into adulthood (APA, 2015; Coryell, 2021; & Howland & Sehamy, 2021)


Causes of Bipolar

Research on the single cause or causes of bipolar disorder is ongoing, however researchers believe that there are various factors that may be contributing to this condition including:

  • Genetics – it is believed that the risk of getting bipolar disorder could be higher if there is a family history of the disorder in a family, usually with the parents or siblings. However, the role that genetics play may not be absolute because a child may never develop the disorder, even if they are from a family with a history of bipolar disorder. Research has also proven that even among twins, one may have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and yet the other doesn’t develop the disorder.
  • Stress – sometimes a traumatic and stressful event such as loss of a family member, devastating illness, a troublesome or difficult relationship, financial challenges can cause a manic or depressive episode. Therefore, a person’s capacity to handling of stress may also play a role in the development of the illness.
  • Brain structure and function – brain scans cannot diagnose bipolar disorder, yet researchers have identified subtle differences in the average size or activation of some brain structures in people with bipolar disorder.

(APA, 2015; Coryell, 2021; & Howland & Sehamy, 2021)


Types of Bipolar

  • Bipolar I – bipolar I disorder is diagnosed when a person experiences at least one manic episode that disrupts their normal social and occupational function. During a manic episode, people with bipolar I disorder experience an extreme increase in energy and may feel on top of the world or uncomfortably irritable in mood. Some people with bipolar I disorder also experience depressive or hypomanic episodes, and most people with bipolar I disorder also have periods of neutral mood. Symptoms of bipolar I disorder include: 
    • Manic episode – this is when the affected person goes through periods of being extremely high-spirited or irritable usually lasting most of the day for most days and for a period of at least one week. A manic episode may cause major challenges in daily functioning.
    • Hypomanic Episode – this episode is less severe and may last for a shorter period of time than manic episode usually only four consecutive days rather than a whole week. Symptoms experienced during this episode also do not cause major challenges in daily functioning.
    • Major Depressive Episode – this episode is characterized by a period of at least two weeks in which a person exhibits numerous emotional states usually occurring simultaneously (such as intense emotions (sadness or despair), loss of interest in activities they enjoyed before, feeling guilt or worthlessness, experiencing poor sleep or poor appetite etc). 


  • Bipolar II – this type of bipolar disorder is characterized when the affected person experiences major depressive episodes with a least one hypomanic episode, though the episodes would not be as severe as manic episodes. 
  • Cyclothymic Disorder – this is usually a milder form of bipolar disorder that involves several “mood swings", with hypomania and mini-depressive periods that occur in the affected person frequently. People with cyclothymia experience emotional ups and downs but with less severe symptoms than bipolar I or II disorder.

(APA, 2015; Coryell, 2021; & Howland & Sehamy, 2021)


Symptoms of Bipolar

People affected by or with bipolar disorder exhibit various signs of the condition. Most of the common signs can be categorized as either being manic or depressive.

Common signs of a manic state Bipolar Disorder include:

  • Feeling tremendously happy.
  • Talking quicker than usual.
  • Feeling agitated.
  • Overconfidence.
  • Decreased or poor sleep.
  • Mood swings and irritability.
  • Racing thoughts.
  • Acting impulsively.
  • Having highly risky behaviours, for example reckless driving, excessive spending, or gambling.


Common signs of depressive state bipolar disorder include: 

  • Feeling sad or hopeless.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Withdrawal from or abandoning preferred activities.
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Poor memory or difficulty remembering things.
  • Change in sleep habits, for example, the affected person may sleep too much or too little. 
  • Thinking about death or having suicidal thoughts.

                                                                                                                                           (APA, 2015; Coryell, 2021; & Howland & Sehamy, 2021)


To access useful mental health resources visit


American Psychological Association (2015). Recognizing the Signs of Bipolar Disorder. APA.

Coryell, W., (2021). Bipolar Disorders. Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp (MSD) Manual.

Howland, M., & Sehamy A. E. (2021). What Is Bipolar Disorder? American Psychiatry Association (APA).


Behaviour Help

If you are supporting an individual with this diagnosis, please refer to our services and resources. They aim to help children, adolescents and adults achieve better communication, social, emotional, behavioural and learning outcomes. So whether you are wanting guidance on parenting, teaching, supporting or providing therapy, Behaviour Help is at hand.

Note: This is not an exhaustive list of all the possible causes, symptoms and types but some general information that can be further explored. Based on what you have read if you have any concerns about an individual, please raise them with the individual/s. The caregiver can then raise these concerns with their local doctor who can provide a referral to the relevant professional (e.g. paediatrician, psychologist, psychiatrist, allied health professional and learning specialists) for diagnosis and treatment if appropriate.