Bipolar disorder

Explains what bipolar disorder is, what kinds of treatment are available, and how you can help yourself cope. Also provides guidance on what friends and family can do to help.

Your stories

What it felt like to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder

Megan shares her experience of struggling with her mental health and receiving a diagnosis.

Megan
Posted on 14/05/2014

Caring for my husband with bipolar

Kate Devlin
Posted on 11/06/2015

My battle with bipolar and medication

Ruth talks about her experiences with bipolar and how she came to terms with the diagnosis.

Posted on 07/11/2014

What are bipolar mood states?

This page provides information on:

Going through any of these experiences can be extremely difficult to cope with, so it's worth thinking about how you can look after yourself, and what kind of treatment could help. It's also worth planning ahead for a crisis.

About manic episodes

Having a manic episode can sometimes feel exciting and fun, but it can also feel distressing, disorientating or unpleasant. Here are some things you might experience during a manic episode:

How you might feel How you might behave
  • happy, euphoric or a sense of wellbeing
  • uncontrollably excited, like you can’t get your words out fast enough
  • irritable and agitated
  • increased sexual energy
  • easily distracted, like your thoughts are racing, or you can't concentrate
  • very confident or adventurous
  • like you are special or understand things other people don’t
  • like you are untouchable or can’t be harmed
  • like you can perform physical and mental tasks better than normal
  • more active than usual
  • talking a lot, speaking very quickly, or not making sense
  • being very friendly
  • saying or doing things that are inappropriate and out of character
  • sleeping very little or not at all
  • being rude or aggressive
  • misusing drugs or alcohol
  • spending money excessively and inappropriately
  • losing social inhibitions
  • taking serious risks with your safety

After a manic episode you might:

  • feel very unhappy or ashamed about how you behaved
  • have made commitments or taken on responsibilities that now feel unmanageable
  • have only a few clear memories of what happened while you were manic, or none at all

(See our pages on hypomania and mania for more information.)

The hardest thing to explain is the racing thoughts when I'm manic. It's like I've got four brains and they're all on overdrive... it can be scary but also euphoric at the same time.

About hypomanic episodes

Hypomania is similar to mania, but has a few key differences. Here are some things you might experience during a hypomanic episode:

How you might feel

How you might behave

  • happy, euphoric or a sense of wellbeing
  • very excited, like you can’t get your words out fast enough
  • irritable and agitated
  • increased sexual energy
  • easily distracted, like your thoughts are racing, or you can't concentrate
  • confident or adventurous
  • more active than usual
  • talking a lot or speaking very quickly
  • being very friendly
  • sleeping very little
  • spending money excessively
  • losing social inhibitions or taking risks

Compared with mania, hypomanic symptoms are likely to:

  • feel more manageable – for example, you might feel able to go to work and socialise without any major problems (although people might still notice your change in mood).
  • last for a shorter time
  • not include any psychotic symptoms

On the surface this description might make it seem like hypomania is less serious than mania, but in reality that's often not the case. A hypomanic episode can still have a significant impact on your life and be very difficult to cope with.

(See our pages on hypomania and mania for more information.)

On 'up' days I chatter 19 to the dozen with anyone to the point it annoys people, and I can't stay still.

About depressive episodes

Here are some things you might experience during a depressive episode:

How you might feel How you might behave
  • down, upset or tearful
  • tired or sluggish
  • not finding enjoyment in things
  • low self-esteem and lacking in confidence
  • guilty, worthless or hopeless
  • agitated and tense
  • suicidal
  • not doing things you normally enjoy
  • having trouble sleeping, or sleeping too much
  • eating too little or too much
  • misusing drugs or alcohol
  • being withdrawn or avoiding people
  • being less physically active than usual
  • self-harming, or attempting suicide

Many people find that a depressive episode can feel harder to deal with than manic or hypomanic episodes. The contrast between your high and low moods may make your depression seem even deeper.

(See our pages on depression for more information.)

The lows can be flat and devoid of colour, or intense and torturous. Sometimes it's full of demons, and pain inside so bad nothing physical could hurt you.

About mixed episodes

Mixed episodes (also called 'mixed states') are when you experience symptoms of depression and mania or hypomania at the same time. This can be particularly difficult to cope with, as:

  • it can be harder to work out what you're feeling
  • it can be harder to identify what help you want
  • it might feel even more challenging and exhausting to manage your emotions
  • you may be more likely to act on suicidal thoughts and feelings
  • your friends, family or doctor might struggle to know how they can support you best

The mixed episodes are the worst. The most unpredictable and most dangerous ones, I find them difficult to explain.

About psychotic symptoms

Psychotic symptoms can include:

Not everyone with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder experiences psychosis, but some people do. It's more common during manic episodes, but can happen during depressive episodes too. These kinds of experiences can feel very real to you at the time, which may make it hard to understand other people's concerns about you.

(See our pages on psychosis for more information. )

Then [with mania] comes the paranoia, the shadows, the voices, the thought someone is behind me following me everywhere I go, ready to get me.


This information was published in October 2015. We will revise it in 2018.


Mental Health A-Z

Information and advice on a huge range of mental health topics

> Read our A-Z

Training

Helping you to better understand and support people with mental health problems

> Find out more

Special offers

Check out our promotional offers on print and digital booklets, for a limited time only

> Visit our shop today