Bipolar Disorder

If you think you might have bipolar disorder, you’re not alone. Find out more about the condition and what to do if you think you’re affected by it

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
  • Psychosis

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.

Guide to CAMHS

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.

Find out more about the drugs used to treat bipolar disorder

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.

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