Bipolar Disorder 101: What is it, how is it diagnosed, and what does it mean

Because there's a lot of misinformation out there

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It's normal to have ups and downs in your mood, but if your ups are incredibly up and your lows are devastatingly low, you could be one of the many people out there who live with Bipolar Disorder.

Even though it's thankfully becoming more acceptable to talk about mental health, there are still a LOT of misconceptions out there when it comes to Bipolar Disorder - so we've decided to help clear things up for anyone confused out there.

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So, what actually is Bipolar Disorder?

Put simply, Bipolar Disorder is a condition that affects your mood, and is characterised by a person experiencing manic episodes (feeling high), depressive episodes (feeling low), and, occasionally, psychotic episodes.

The term itself refers to how you can swing between two very different states in what can be both distressing and overwhelming experience for a person to live with.

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What symptoms should I watch out for?

The two states will throw out totally different symptoms. Unlike usual changes in mood, the states of Bipolar Disorder tend to last far longer - sometimes weeks or more, until the feeling eventually subsides and the person feels 'normal' again.

For those in the mania stage, you're likely to have increased energy, excitement, and agitation which will often lead to impulsive behaviour. Many people also report that they don't feel like eating or sleeping in this stage, and that they become annoyed at things much quicker.

The symptoms of depression on the other hand can include a lack of energy, feelings of worthlessness, low self esteem and suicidal thoughts. It should also be mentioned that many people are diagnosed with clinical depression first, before later being correctly diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder.

What causes it?

There's still a lot of uncertainty out there about what actually causes Bipolar Disorder, although it's believed that a number of things can trigger an episode. Extreme stress and life-changing events are likely to increase your change of having the disorder, with genetic and chemical factors also having a large influence.

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Who does it affect?

Bipolar is actually a fairly common condition, with 1 in 100 people being diagnosed with it at some point in their life. 

It tends to manifest in people between the ages of 15 and 19 and rarely develops after 40. But other than that, Bipolar Disorder really doesn't discriminate - men and women from all backgrounds are equally likely to develop it.

What can be done to help it?

The pattern in mood swings changes massively from person to person - some people might only experience a couple of episodes in a lifetime, whereas others have many episodes that rarely let up.

But, there are a range of options out there to treat the condition. Mood stabilisers will help to prevent the episodes of mania and depression, and psychological treatment - such as talking therapy, has proven to be quite effective.

There are also some basic lifestyle changes you can make to help improve the condition - exercising, making sure you get enough sleep, and eating properly can make a noticeable difference in your life.

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