What is bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a disorder in which your mood can switch between extremes of happiness and depression, with episodes lasting for days or even weeks on end.
It affects 1 in 100 people and tends to begin later in adolescence with symptoms usually starting between the ages of 15 and 19 in young people.
Celebrities like Katherine Zeta Jones, Kerry Katona and Stephen Fry have all spoken publicly about bipolar disorder, and show that even if you’re affected by it, with the right treatment you can get on with life and continue doing the things you enjoy.
The symptoms of bipolar disorder
The symptoms of bipolar disorder can come and go – they won’t necessarily be present all the time. The symptoms to look out for include:
- Extreme mood swings
- Manic episodes such as taking a lot, racing thoughts, over confidence, increased activity
- Difficulty with concentration
- Low mood
- Decreased energy
- Disturbed sleep
- Reduced appetite
- Thoughts of self-harm
Just because you experience one or more of these symptoms, it doesn’t mean you’re definitely affected by bipolar disorder. It’s important to talk to your GP to get a full diagnosis.
What to do about bipolar disorder
Take the first step – if you think you are affected by bipolar disorder, talk to your GP or school counsellor.
If your GP thinks you might be affected, they should refer you to the child and adolescent mental health service (CAMHS) or a specialist psychiatrist.
Treating bipolar disorder
The first stage of treatment is to get your mood swings under control. During manic episodes, you may be offered an anti-psychotic drug or, if that doesn’t help, a drug to stabilise your mood such as lithium.
During depressive episodes, you may be offered an antidepressant. These can take a couple of weeks to take effect and if they bring on a manic episode, you may then be offered a drug to stabilise your mood too.
Once your mood swings are under control, you could also benefit from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to help you to understand your thoughts and behavior and to help you think of things differently.
Helplines and services available
- If you're in distress and need support, you can ring Samaritans for free at any time of the day or night.
- Freephone (UK and Republic of Ireland): 116 123 (24 hours)
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- If you're under 18 you can confidentially call, email, or chat online about any problem big or small
Freephone 24h helpline: 0800 1111
- Sign up for a childline account on the website to be able to message a counsellor anytime without using your email address
- Chat 1:1 with an online advisor
- If you're under 25 you can talk to The Mix for free on the phone, by email or on their webchat. You can also use their phone counselling service, or get more information on support services you might need.
- Freephone: 0808 808 4994 (13:00-23:00 daily)