Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is a mood disorder characterised by extreme shifts in mood, energy and functioning.
It is normal for people to go through ups and downs in life, but people with Bipolar disorder, have these in extremes. Mood variations are out of proportion to normal reactions to daily events and often unrelated to what is happening in the person’s life.
The word “bipolar” refers to the two extremes (poles) in the continuum of mood - mania and depression. There are usually periods of normal mood between episodes of mania and depression.
During a manic, “high” episode a person displays behaviour that is out of character. He/she may be “overly” happy and/or highly irritable, have boundless energy, go for days without sleeping and lose his/her inhibitions in social settings. People with mania may develop unrealistic beliefs in their capabilities that may impair their judgement, the result of which is engagement in foolish activities or projects which often lead them into financial or other difficulties. As a manic episode develops, there may be an increase in the use of alcohol or stimulants which may aggravate or prolong the episode.
Typically a manic person denies that there is anything wrong or unusual with him/her. The changes in mood and behaviour are observable by others who know the person well.
During the “low” phase the person is depressed, lacks energy and struggles to enjoy activities which were previously enjoyable.
Some people can experience symptoms of depression and mania at the same time. This is called mixed Bipolar disorder.
The disorder can disrupt the person’s work, school, family and social life. As such it can be very disabling, but if treated appropriately responds well. Treatment can help prevent future episodes.
Revision date: June 21, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD