Facts about bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is an illness that affects thoughts, feelings, perceptions and behavior. A person with bipolar disorder will also feel physical changes. Most often, a person with manic-depression experiences moods that shift from high to low and back again in varying degrees of severity. The two poles of bipolar disorder are mania and depression. This is the least complicated form of the illness.

Some signs of bipolar disorder

Feelings of exhilaration, extreme optimism, exaggerated self-esteem.

Rapid speech and unrestrained thought processes.

Decreased need for sleep, individual has the feeling of never getting run down.

Extreme irritability.

Impulsive and potentially reckless behaviour.

Mania is a very different emotional state. A person can have a manic episode that is characterized by an emotional state of intense but unfounded elation that is often coupled with irritability, hyperactivity, talkativeness, lack of focus, and impractical, extravagant plans for the future.

Hypomania is a less extreme form of a manic episode. Symptoms may include:

  • Having extreme confidence in yourself
  • Being able to focus well on projects
  • Feeling creative or innovative
  • Being able to brush off problems that would paralyze you during depression
  • Feeling "on top of the world" but without going over the top.


Cyclothymia is a form of bipolar disorder distinguished by short periods of mild depression and short periods of hypomania, separated by short periods of normal mood. A person with cyclothymia is never completely free of the symptoms of depression or of hypomania for more than two months at a time.

Cyclothymia is equally common in men and women and affects up to one per centof the population. The disorder usually appears in the teen years or early adulthood. If left untreated, approximately 30 per cent of those with cyclothymia eventually experience a full-blown manic episode and their diagnosis is changed to bipolar I disorder or bipolar.

While a person with cyclothymia is not likely to end up in the hospital, the intense mood swings can seriously disrupt their life. Imagine feeling on top of the world, ready to take on any project one day, just to wake up the next morning feeling down and depressed. This is what it's like living with cyclothymia.

An individual who has mixed episodes of hypomania and depression is usually diagnosed with bipolar II disorder, whereas regular depression mixed with mania is known as bipolar I disorder.

It is not known what causes bipolar disorder I or II. Research suggests that people with this condition have a genetic disposition. It tends to run in families. Drug abuse and stressful or traumatic events may contribute to or trigger episodes.

Treatment is available

Recognizing the signs and triggers of bipolar disorder enables individuals to work with their physicians, other members of their healthcare team, family, and friends to prevent recurrences from becoming severe.

Bipolar disorder is mainly treated with a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Individuals are prescribed medication that helps to stabilize their moods. Therapy helps them detect and recognize patterns and triggers. The clinician works with the individual to use the information in developing strategies to manage their symptoms.

More information about bipolar disorder:

Canadian Mental Health Association

Mood Disorders Society of Canada

Mayo Clinic