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Updated : August 1, 2022 7 mins read


Updated : August 1, 2022 7 mins read

It’s important to remember…

The information that we put together in these pages are for informational purposes and should never be used as medical advice or instead of advice given to you from a health professional.

If you have any concerns about your mental health then you should always speak to a mental health professional or your GP.

We do our very best to put together information that gives you a good understanding of mental health issues and what can help but it is not intended as medical advice and we do not take responsibility that it is accurate or up to date at the time of reading.

Bipolar is a mental health condition that can involve extreme highs and lows in mood.

What is bipolar

Bipolar is a mental health condition that can affect anyone from any background. Bipolar literally means two opposites, this is because people with bipolar can experience extremes in high and low moods.

The different moods that you might experience with bipolar are called episodes or states these are:

  • Manic
  • Depressive
  • Mixed
  • Psychotic
  • Neutral

You can find out more about these episode in ‘symptoms of bipolar’

Each person with bipolar will experience these episodes differently, depending on what type of bipolar they have. Some people will only experience one type of episode whereas others can go through all the different episodes.

Bipolar usually develops between the ages of 15 – 19 years old, however some people might not get a diagnosis until they are much older.

Although lots of people may have heard the term bipolar before, they may not really understand what it is or what it is like to live with.

There is a lot of stigma around living with bipolar, if you have bipolar you might feel isolated from your friends or that people don’t understand what you’re going through which can be upsetting.

There is support out there and people who do understand what you’re going through.

  • Bipolar Scotland – Scotland’s national bipolar charity offering information, training and group support for people with bipolar
  • Bipolar UK – UK wide bipolar charity offering resources, group support and peer support lines.

Types of Bipolar

There are different types of bipolar, the episodes and symptoms you experience can be slightly different depending on the type of bipolar you have.

What’s the difference between mania and hypomania?

Mania and hypomania relate to the same thing, feeling elated, high or manic. Some people also become easily irritated.The difference between mania and hypomania depends on how long the mania lasts and how bad it is.

Mania lasts for at least one week and the symptoms of it are more severe. Hypomania lasts for at least four days and the symptoms are milder compared to mania.

Episodes of bipolar/ The different moods of bipolar

There are four main episodes of bipolar. Each person with bipolar can experience them differently, some people only experience one type of episode and not every person with bipolar will go through psychosis.

Trigger warning

This section talks about issues that might be upsetting. If you are struggling at the minute you may find it triggering to read this page today.

What to do if you feel triggered: You don’t need to read everything on this page today.

You could also use the summary/jump to section to go sections you feel able to read. Or, you can bookmark it, leave it completely and come back to it another day.

What causes bipolar?

We don’t know exactly what causes bipolar but we do know that there are certain things that can make it more likely to develop. These are childhood trauma, stressful life events and brain chemistry. It is also common for bipolar to run in families.

Childhood trauma

If you experienced a lot of distress as a child this can impact how you manage emotions and stress as you grow up. This can increase the chances of developing bipolar.

Childhood trauma can be:

  • Neglect
  • Abuse; physical or sexual
  • Losing a parent or someone close to you
  • Experiencing something really scary or distressing

Stressful life events

Some people find that their first episode was triggered by going through a stressful life event.

Stressful life events can be:

  • Being bullied
  • Exam, school or work pressure
  • Relationship breakdown
  • Losing someone you love

Stressful events aren’t always negative, sometimes stress linked to happy experiences can trigger an episode like planning a wedding or moving house.

Brain chemistry

Medication, called antidepressants, can help to manage some bipolar symptoms.

Antidepressants work by targeting parts of your brain called neurotransmitters. This would suggest that bipolar is linked to how your brain is made up. There still isn’t enough research to say for certain that this is a cause of bipolar.

Treatment for bipolar

Getting treatment and help for bipolar is really important. With the right support episodes can become much shorter and more manageable. Without treatment, episodes can go on for months rather than days or weeks.

It is recommended that people with bipolar are offered a mix of medication and therapies. What you are offered will depend on the type of bipolar you have and how it affects your life.

Medication can help in both the depressive and manic states. The aim of medication is to help you to regulate your mood. You might still move through the different bipolar moods, but then you will not feel as high or as low as you would without the medication. This can make it more manageable for you.

It is likely that you will have to take medication for the long term future to help you stay well, during more severe periods your doctor might increase or change your medication.

It’s important for you to keep taking your medication, this can feel more challenging if you experience mania as you might feel like you no longer need it.

There are different talking therapies that you might be offered, depending on what type of bipolar you have and what therapy would be best suited to you.

Types of therapies include:

  • Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)
    Focuses on your thoughts, feelings and behaviour. Aims to help you change your thoughts which in turn changes how you feel and behave.
  • Interpersonal Therapy
    Looks at your relationships with other people and how this affects your thoughts and feelings.
  • Couples Therapy
    Helps you and your partner to talk through emotional issues.
  • Family Focused Therapy
    Therapy with members of your family where you can talk through and solve issues with the aim to find ways of supporting you with your bipolar.
  • Group Therapy (called group psychoeducation)
    Therapy with other people who also have bipolar or similar experiences.

Living with Bipolar

Each person who has a diagnosis of bipolar has a unique experience of their illness, symptoms and recovery. If you have been diagnosed with bipolar, then you will too. How bipolar defines you and how you live with it will be completely different to another person with bipolar.

Being diagnosed as a young adult can feel especially hard because you’re already trying to work out who you are and where you want to go in life. Bipolar can feel like it bulldozes over who you thought you were or want to be.

There is no point sugar coating bipolar to say that living with it is easy. Sometimes it will be quite the opposite because of the nature of the condition. However, with the right help, treatment and access to support that you find meaningful you can live a happy life with bipolar.

Peer support can be really helpful for young people with bipolar as it can give you access to people who are either going through similar challenges or have been through it and have come out the other side. When times are hard, this can give you hope that things can and will get better.

Get Help now

If you are concerned about your mental health, or if you have found yourself feeling concerned about someone else, you can:

Call 111 – NHS 24

Call 116 123 – The Samaritans

Call 0800 83 85 87 – Breathing Space

Text: ‘YM’ to 85258 – Young Minds crisis chat

If you think you are in danger of hurting yourself or other people, you should call 999 or present to your local A&E department.