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Bipolar disorder

Explains what bipolar disorder is, as well as different diagnoses and treatments. Offers information on how you can support someone with bipolar and tips for self-management.

What is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a mental health problem that mainly affects your mood. If you have bipolar disorder, you're likely to have times where you experience:

  • Manic or hypomanic episodes, which means feeling high
  • Depressive episodes, which means feeling low
  • Potentially some psychotic symptoms during manic or depressive episodes

You might hear these different experiences called mood episodes or states. You can read more about them in our page on bipolar moods and symptoms.

Depending on the way you experience these moods, and how severely they affect you, your doctor may diagnose you with a particular type of bipolar disorder.

“It's an emotional amplifier: when my mood is high I feel far quicker, funnier, smarter and livelier than anyone; when my mood is low I take on the suffering of the whole world.”

What's it like living with bipolar disorder?

In this video, Laura, Steve and Joe talk about their experiences of living with bipolar disorder.

View video transcript as a PDF (opens in new window)

Bipolar disorder – Siobhan's story

In this podcast, Siobhan talks about her experiences of bipolar disorder.

Content warning: this podcast mentions suicide, but it doesn't include details on methods.

Read a transcript of the podcast

Find out more about Mind's podcasts or subscribe to our podcast on iTunes or Audioboom.

Bipolar disorder and stigma

Many of us have heard of bipolar disorder, but this doesn't mean we all fully understand the diagnosis.

You might find that some people have:

  • Misconceptions about you
  • A negative or inaccurate image of bipolar disorder

This can feel very upsetting. Especially if the person who thinks this way is a friend, colleague, family member or healthcare professional.

Remember: you are not alone and you don't have to put up with people treating you badly.

You might want to think about the following options:

  • Show people this information. It might help them better understand what your bipolar disorder diagnosis means.
  • Get more involved in your treatment. You can have a say in your treatment, make your voice heard, and take steps if youre not happy with your care. For guidance, see our pages on seeking help for a mental health problem.
  • Know your rights. The law can help you in certain situations. For more information, see our pages on legal rights.
  • Take action with Mind. For details of ways you can get involved in helping challenge stigma, see our page on campaigning.

For more information, see our page on stigma and misconceptions about mental health.

“What helps me the most is the ongoing realisation and acceptance that the way in which my bipolar disorder manifests itself, and the symptoms I display, are not personality traits or 'bad behaviour'.”

What does bipolar mean?

The word bipolar has two parts:

  • Bi meaning 'two'
  • Polar meaning 'completely opposite'

The term bipolar refers to the way your mood can change between two very different states – mania and depression. In the past, people used to refer to bipolar disorder as manic depression. You might still hear people use this older term today.

But both terms can lead to misunderstanding. People can think it means only having mood swings between severe mania and depression. But bipolar disorder is much more complex than this.

Mood episodes can range from severe depression to mania, and anything in between. Sometimes your episodes may feel intense and other times you may feel stable. And you may never experience certain mood episodes. For example, not everyone with bipolar disorder will experience mania.

Some healthcare professionals may also use the term bipolar affective disorder. 'Affective' means that the disorder relates to mood or emotions.

“The term bipolar can be a little bit misleading actually, because I don't think there are just always two poles of being depressed and being manic.”

This information was published in February 2022. We will revise it in 2025.

References and bibliography available on request.

If you want to reproduce this content, see our permissions and licensing page.

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