What is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder can have an extremely detrimental impact on the physical, mental and emotional well-being of impacted individuals, resulting in challenges to normal and healthy engagement at home and at work.

Bipolar disorder is a form of mental health condition that can impact a person’s mood, leading to extreme shifts in mood, energy, and activity levels. It’s typically identified by experiences of periods of intense highs, referred to as mania or hypomania, followed by periods of extreme lows (also known as depression). This can be a life-long mental health condition, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics reporting 2.9% of Australians over 16 are affected by the disorder. 

What are the symptoms of bipolar disorder?

If you’re experiencing bipolar disorder, your feelings and actions will likely be outside of your own control. This may mean that your close friends and family members are the first to notice the presence of the disorder in your life.

Bipolar disorder can be challenging to diagnose due to the intense hypomanic feelings that make individuals suffering from the disorder feel highly energetic and positive. Understanding the symptoms of bipolar disorder can be helpful in assessing whether you or someone you love may need to seek help from a mental health professional.

Common symptoms of bipolar disorder include episodes of depressive periods followed by intense highs (or manic episodes). 

A manic phase may look like:

  • A sense of ‘high’ or euphoria
  • An over-inflated sense of self-importance
  • Intense and heightened levels of creativity, energy and activity
  • Too much or too little sleep
  • A dysregulated appetite or sudden weight loss
  • Rapid thoughts, speech patterns and a tendency to interrupt others
  • Low patience leading to a heightened state of irritability and impatience
  • Risk-taking or inappropriate sexual behaviours
  • Lowered inhibition and impulsive behaviours
  • Reduced ability to concentrate 
  • Delusions and hallucinations

By contrast, bipolar symptoms during a depressed phase may include:

  • Extreme sensations of sadness or hopelessness
  • A lack of interest in activities that are normally enjoyable
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Excessive sleep
  • Fatigue and constant exhaustion
  • Slow physical movement
  • Senses of guilt and low self-esteem
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Suicidal thoughts

What are the different types of bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder has several different classifications, including Bipolar I disorder, Bipolar II disorder, and Cyclothymic disorder. 

Other specified bipolar related disorder and unspecified bipolar and related disorder are also recognised categories, along with substance or drug-induced bipolar and related disorder, and bipolar and related disorder related to a separate medical condition. This range of bipolar disorder types can be diagnosed by qualified mental healthcare professionals.

What causes bipolar disorder?

Like other mental health conditions, bipolar disorder may arise from a combination of factors and circumstances.

Factors including genetics, environmental factors, physical illnesses and substances can all contribute to the development of bipolar disorder. In some circumstances, its onset may be linked to a stressful life experience or an unexpected trauma.

As bipolar disorder is the most likely psychiatric disorder to be passed down from family, it’s important to pay attention to your family’s mental health history when understanding your own risk profile.

How is bipolar disorder diagnosed?

Bipolar disorder can be difficult to diagnose, as it may first appear as depression if an individual presents during a depressive period. 

A mental health professional will work through a comprehensive evaluation of individual symptoms, medical history, and family history, as well as any necessary physical exams or laboratory tests to rule out any other possible causes of symptoms. 

Receiving a diagnosis can be the first step towards building a recovery plan. If you believe you may be suffering from bipolar disorder, reach out to a mental health professional to find the support you need.

What is bipolar disorder treatment?

As with other mental health conditions, an effective bipolar disorder may require a mixture of various treatment approaches. Treatment for bipolar disorder will often take place within a life-long treatment plan that draws on medication alongside psychological treatment tools and lifestyle management strategies.

Managing bipolar disorder is also carried out in two parts: acute management and long-term management. Acute management’s goal is about stabilisation for someone currently in the midst of mania or depression, while long-term bipolar disorder treatment involves maintenance and preventative measures to reduce the risk of relapse. 

Can bipolar disorder be prevented?

No guaranteed method can prevent bipolar disorder. However, by taking proactive steps at the earliest signs of a potential mental health disorder, you can find the clinical care you need to reduce its impacts on your life and develop management strategies for the long term.

If you’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it’s recommended to pay attention to warning signs of a degradation in your mental health (such as falling into either manic or depressive episodes), avoid drugs and alcohol, and take any prescribed medications in the manner you’ve been directed to. 

What are the complications of bipolar disorder?

Untreated bipolar disorder can have ongoing impacts on your overall quality of life. Some of its complications may include:

  • Longer and more severe mood changes if untreated, with manic episodes potentially lasting up to six6 months without bipolar treatment
  • Substance abuse or a developing dependence
  • Cardiovascular health issues
  • Diabetes
  • An inability to healthily manage weight
  • Suicidal ideations


    By understanding the symptoms of bipolar disorder, you can more effectively monitor your own experience, or provide support to a loved one experiencing bipolar disorder.

    Mania and hypomania

    A manic phase may lead to symptoms such as a sudden sense of greatness, elation or a sense of being ‘wired’. Individuals in the midst of a manic phase may suddenly feel extremely creative and energetic, like they’ve got a thousand ideas they want to action at once. This can be paired with an inflated sense of self-esteem that can contribute to unrealistic plans or delusions.

    Major depressive episode

    By contrast, individuals in a depressive episode will seem entirely unlike the person they were in the midst of a manic phase. They’ll likely experience a low mood and a lack of motivation, little to no interest in their normal hobbies and activities, problems with concentration, a desire to isolate themselves from social contact, and feelings of guilt or worthlessness that may lead to suicidal ideations. 

    Other features of bipolar disorder

    Alongside the common symptoms of manic or depressive episodes, bipolar disorder may result in psychotic symptoms, mixed episodes (which involves the presence of both manic and depressive symptoms) and rapid cycling (which results in four or more episodes of mania, hypomania or depression within a single 12-month period). People with bipolar disorder may also experience delusions or hallucinations.

    How can we help?

    At Hope In Health, our personalised approach to integrated clinical care provides comprehensive support for individuals living with bipolar disorder. Our expert team of clinical practitioners can assist you in managing your bipolar disorder symptoms via our rehabilitation processes, developing sustainable coping strategies and improving your overall quality of life. 


    With a range of evidence-based bipolar therapy and bipolar disorder treatment practices, you’ll find a holistic approach to every aspect of your bipolar disorder recovery and management. Contact us today to learn more.

    Speak with our team today


    return to life

    Reach Out