What is bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder with alternating episodes of depression and “mania”. Mania is an elevated, irritable mood. During a manic episode, people may feel invincible, experience racing thoughts, sleeplessness, and engage in risky behaviors.
UCLA Health
Bipolar disorder is among the world’s oldest recognized psychiatric conditions. However, it is often mischaracterized and misunderstood.

“Recent diagnostic trends in psychiatry and psychology, as well as reports in the news media, have tended to trivialize this illness,” says David J. Miklowitz, PhD, director of the Child and Adolescent Mood Disorders Program in the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. It has been used to explain less serious mood and adjustment problems of children and teens, and to label adults who exhibit milder forms of manic and/or depressed behavior than would be seen in true bipolar disorder. “And the association of bipolar disorder with artistic creativity, while welcome for de-stigmatizing the illness, makes it sound as if anyone with the disorder has Tchaikovsky inside them waiting to come out,” Dr. Miklowitz says.

The realities are much different. People with bipolar disorder spend close to half their lives in debilitating states of depression that make it hard to work or maintain relationships or parenting roles. And while many people with the disorder do have artistic or literary talents, they are too depressed or too medicated to take full advantage of their talents. Fortunately, today there are mood-stabilizing medications that, while not easy to take, reduce symptoms, even out the highs and lows, and keep people out of the hospital.

There are also specific forms of therapy that address the needs of the bipolar person. The combination of medications and therapy decreases the time it takes for sufferers to recover from their episodes and reduces the risk of recurrence. Even more important, says Dr. Miklowitz, treatments “may increase quality of life, which is usually the most important goal for the person with the disorder and his or her family.”
Intermountain Healthcare
Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is a biological disorder. This chronic (lifelong) illness causes unusual shifts in your mood, energy, and ability to function.

When you have bipolar disorder, your mood shifts are severe -- quite different from normal, everyday ups and downs. Untreated, these mood shifts can hurt your relationships and your performance at work or school. They cause poor decisions and distort your sense of self. Not surprisingly, people with untreated bipolar disorder are at risk for suicide.

But there is good news. Bipolar disorder is highly treatable. With good medical help for your illness, you can lead a full and productive life.

Bipolar disorder is an illness characterized by periods of very high, excited, or irritable mood — known as mania or hypomania — and other periods of depressed mood. In the U.S., between 2 and 4 percent of the population suffers from bipolar disorder. Most patients experience their first episode of depression or mania/hypomania between 15 and 25 years of age. There are several forms of bipolar disorder. Some people experience manic episodes, a period of high energy and impulsiveness, which lasts for more than a week. Bipolar II is characterized by shorter periods of high energy called hypomania and episodes of major depression. When bipolar disorder is not treated, it is associated with increased mortality from suicide and with other medical problems such as cardiovascular illness, diabetes, obesity, and migraine headaches.


Mood disorders characterized by cycles between extreme highs and extreme lows are called bipolar disorders. Bipolar disorders are episodic conditions marked by depression punctuated by at least one episode of mania (exceptionally extreme highs) or hypomania (moderately extreme highs).

Bouncing between the poles of high-high (mania) and low-low (depression) is the very essence of the diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder contrasts with mild-to-moderate depression and major depression, disorders characterized by deep lows without intervening manic highs.

Sheri Van Dijk
Bipolar disorder is a biological illness that causes unusual shifts in your mood, level of energy, and ability to function in different aspects of your life (for example, working or going to school, taking care of yourself, and maintaining relationships). This illness used to be called manic depression, because it was thought that people with the illness would fluctuate only between episodes of highly elevated, euphoric moods and episodes of major depression. More recently, doctors have realized that the illness is not quite that black and white -- that there are many moods that actually occur on a spectrum. Rather than just experiencing episodes of depression or mania, people with bipolar disorder can in fact experience various moods and symptoms that fall in between these two extremes, and this is why the illness was renamed bipolar disorder, implying that symptoms occur on a spectrum between the two poles of mania and depression.

We all have times in our lives when we feel sadness, we may have trouble coping, or we feel overwhelmed. The mood shifts that occur with bipolar disorder, however, are very different from the normal ups and downs that everyone experiences at times. The symptoms of bipolar disorder are much more severe and can result in damaged relationships, poor performance at school or in the workplace, and even suicide or other life-threatening behaviors.

For some people, the mood changes brought on by bipolar disorder can be dramatic. They can go very quickly from feeling euphoric or "high," or feeling extremely irritable, to feeling sad and hopeless. For others, however, the changes are not so severe or easily identified and can involve mild to moderate levels of mania, known as hypomania. For still others, both depression and mania can occur at the same time, leading to a tumultuous, chaotic experience of feeling extremely energetic but sad and hopeless at the same time. This is known as a mixed episode.
The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook for Bipolar Disorder: Using DBT to Regain Control of Your Emotions and Your Life (New Harbinger Self-Help Workbook)

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The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook for Bipolar Disorder: Using DBT to Regain Control of Your Emotions and Your Life (New Harbinger Self-Help Workbook)

Even if you've just been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it's likely that you've been living with it for a long time. You've probably already developed your own ways of coping with recurring...
Celeste Robb-Nicholson
Internal Medicine
In bipolar disorder -- once known as manic-depressive disease -- major depressive episodes alternate with periods of extreme elation or agitation, known as mania. The manic phase can develop gradually and is preceded by a state called hypomania. Being hypomanic can be extremely seductive because it confers extra verve, productivity, and sociability. However, within days or even hours, hypomania can progress to mania -- an excessive "high," decreased need for sleep, increased energy, garrulousness, excessive sexual activity, racing thoughts, grandiose notions, and distractibility. People in the manic state may take unreasonable risks, enter into destructive relationships, and spend profligately.
Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in a person's mood, energy, and ability to function. Different from the normal ups and downs that everyone goes through, the symptoms of bipolar disorder are severe. They can result in damaged relationships, poor job or school performance, and even suicide. But there is good news: bipolar disorder can be treated, and people with this illness can lead full and productive lives.

About 5.7 million American adults, or about 2.6 percent of the population, age 18 and older in any given year, have bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder typically develops in late adolescence or early adulthood. However, some people have their first symptoms during childhood, and some develop them late in life. It is often not recognized as an illness, and people may suffer for years before it is properly diagnosed and treated. Like diabetes or heart disease, bipolar disorder is a long-term illness that must be carefully managed throughout a person's life.
Bipolar Disorder, once commonly known as manic-depressive illness, is characterised by mood swings from mania to depression, punctuated by periods of stable mood in between where one is free of these symptoms. It is a disorder of the brain thought to be caused by a combination of changes in brain functioning, genetics, and a person's environment.
Douglas S. Denham, DO
Family Medicine

Bipolar Disorder, or Maniac-depressive disorder, is a mental illness that combines both depression and mania. Depression is that feeling of sadness or hopelessness and loss of interest in pleasurable interests. The other end of the spectrum is called mania; that feeling of euphoria and extreme energy. There are two subtypes of Bipolar: Bipolar I and Bipolar II. Bipolar I is the more severe of the two in terms of more severe changes in mood. With Bipolar I, the manic episodes can be very extreme which can lead to dangerous activities or cause problems at work and home. (thrill seeking, increased sexual activity, and impulse buying). Bipolar II has less severe changes in mood, hypomania that while potentially causing problems, generally allow the patient is able to continue with their normal activities. In both cases, the depressive moods tend to be the more significant part of the illness in terms or duration.

Bipolar disorder is felt to have a genetic component, as it tends to occur in families. It tends to become prevalent during adolescent to early adulthood. Risk factors such as periods of extreme stress, drug and alcohol abuse or major life changes may induce Bipolar disorder. People with this disease often do not seek help as they enjoy the manic episodes due the feelings of high energy and increased productivity. They do not see the effects their disease is having on their colleagues or family members. And when they finally descend into a depression, they can experience severe depression which may take long periods to resolve.

Bipolar like other forms of depression requires medication to treat and prevent the manic episodes as well as the depression. Failure to get treatment may result in substance abuse, legal problems (due to behaviors while manic), financial problems, Relationship issues, loss of employment and suicide.

Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Medicine
Bipolar disorder is a term used to describe several closely related conditions. People with bipolar disorder experience dramatic mood swings. During a high phase, known as mania, a person may appear very talkative and easily distracted. A manic person may have lots of energy and little interest or desire for sleep. Mania can cause a person to have grandiose ideas, such as believing he or she is rich or powerful. Some people in a manic episode engage in reckless or dangerous behavior. During a low, depressed phase, a person may be sad and hopeless. The duration and intensity of manic and depressed phases will vary, depending on the type of bipolar disorder a person has. Some people have mixed mania, in which they have manic and depressed symptoms at the same time or in close sequence.
Ms. Julie A. Fast
Mental Health
Bipolar disorder, along with depression is a mood disorder. It’s an illness that affects brain chemicals and causes changes in moods that are 'non average' responses to outside events. This is why it’s so hard for those of us with the illness to handle change and stressful life events. This includes life events that are positive. Not all mood swings make sense! 
Bipolar I (one) and Bipolar II (two).  There are two main types of bipolar disorder: Bipolar disorder I (one) and bipolar disorder II (two). The main difference is the type of mania a person experiences.
  • Bipolar I has full blown mania.
  • Bipolar II has a milder mania called hypomania.
What is Mania?  Mania is a chemically elevated mood that can be either euphoric (happy, creative, grandiose and overly positive, etc.) or dysphoric (also called expansive mania, agitated mania or mixed mania).
Full blown mania and hypomania share many symptoms- but in differing degrees. Full blown mania has a high risk of psychosis.
Caveat: Hypomania may be milder than full blown mania, but it can still cause a lot of problems!
A Few Mania Symptoms:
  • A profound feeling of physical well being
  • Decreased need for sleep without being tired the next day
  • Talkativeness and rapid speech
  • Hyperactivity, restlessness or agitation
  • Very uncomfortable physically
  • Increased use of alcohol and drugs
  • Increased sexual desire
  • Poor judgment and engaging in high-risk behaviors
What is Bipolar Depression?  Bipolar depression is much more than a low mood. Most people with bipolar disorder have dozens of symptoms of depression. Here are some common symptoms:
  • Sadness, unhappiness, feelings of despair and hopelessness
  • Irritability, frustration, low tolerance and anger
  • Low self-esteem, feeling worthless or inadequate, loss of self confidence
  • Anxiety. 90% of people with bipolar depression have anxiety.
Bipolar depression is more difficult to treat than unipolar depression as it’s often complicated by mania and other bipolar symptoms. Also, anti-depressants can cause mania, so this complicates treatment even further.
Additional Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder:  Other symptoms of bipolar disorder include psychosis, sleep problems, anxiety and aggression. These symptoms can lead to paranoia, OCD and cognitive problems such as those found in ADHD.
It’s complicated! Bipolar disorder is not just mania and depression, so knowledge of all symptoms is essential.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
As you might guess from the prefixes, bipolar depression refers to people who have two different sides to their depression or behavior--that is, a depressed state and a very high-energy state.   
Keith Star
Bipolar disorder is characterized in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) by the occurrence of one or more manic or mixed episodes often accompanied by depressive episodes. Basically, Bipolar disorder is an illness that affects thoughts, feelings, perceptions and behavior. 
Bipolar Disorder is also known as manic-depression or manic-depressive disorder. This condition is characterized by mood that alternates between periods of depression and periods of elation and excitable behavior known as mania. For people who have Bipolar Disorder, the depressions can be severe and the mania can seriously impair one's normal judgment. When manic, a person is prone towards reckless and inappropriate behavior such as engaging in wild spending sprees or having promiscuous sex. He or she may not be able to realize the harm of his or her behavior and may even lose touch with reality. Cyclothymic Disorder is a milder yet more enduring type of bipolar disorder. A person's mood alternates between a less severe mania (known as hypomania) and a less severe depression.
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
Bipolar disorder is a treatable mental illness that causes extreme mood swings. One moment you might be on Cloud 9, giddy, or in a state of euphoria. And then all of the sudden, without anything triggering it, you can feel incredibly sad, hopeless, or even suicidal. The shifts can happen a few times a year or even a few times a day.
Bipolar is a very commonly misdiagnosed condition, usually because patients seek treatment when they are depressed only. Be sure to tell your doctor about your anxiety and manic symptoms. Some medications you can ask your new doctor about are lithium and Depakote. Lamictal is a newer agent and is used in bipolar as well.  It is a good idea to seek a second opinion if you don't feel you are getting the treatment you need.
Mona A. Schulz, MD
Bipolar disorder is a term that describes a major psychiatric problem with one's capacity to maintain a normal and stable mood. This term was in the past only used exclusively to describe those individuals whose problem with moodiness met a strict criterion - that is, they had to experience a major depressed mood for at least two weeks in duration alternating with episodes of abnormally high moods, called mania. Today, the term bipolar disorder is now frequently used to include those individuals who have irritability, and impulsive angry outbursts in addition to depression.

Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder that causes episodes of extreme highs and lows. The lows of depression may cause you to feel hopeless, sad, or even suicidal. The highs of mania may create extraordinary energy and optimism that can lead to risky behavior. Some people experience mixed states, which are episodes of depression and mania that occur at the same time.

Bipolar disorder is a long-term condition that needs uninterrupted treatment. The treatment options are often very effective.

The term "bipolar" refers to the two extremes, or poles, that people with this condition experience. Bipolar disorder may also be known as manic-depressive disorder.

Continue Learning about Bipolar Disorder

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.