Understanding Bipolar Disorder (2024)

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Bipolar disorder is a serious disorder of the brain. It may severely disrupt your life. At times, it may cause you and your loved ones great pain. But there is hope. Although there is no cure, treatment can help control your symptoms. Talk with your healthcare provider or a mental health professional. They can offer guidance and support.

Understanding Bipolar Disorder (1)

What causes bipolar disorder?

The exact causes of bipolar disorder aren’t known. It is known that the disease runs in families. Genes that affect nerve cells in the brain may be inherited, but as yet these genes have not been found.

Who does it affect?

Over5 million adults in this country have bipolar disorder. Most often, it strikes young adults. It can affect children and older adults as well. Bipolar disorder affects both men and women. It can strike people of all races, cultures, and incomes.

Ups and downs

Bipolar disorder used to be called manic-depressive illness. That is because it causes extreme mood swings. At times the person may feel almost too happy. These times are often followed by great despair. In some cases, both extremes may occur at once. More often, moods shift back and forth. These mood swings may occur just once in a while. Or they may happen 4 or more times a year. Without treatment, they will likely recur throughout life.

Manic episodes

During manic episodes of bipolar disorder, you feel like you’re on top of the world. Even the worst news can’t seem to bring you down. You’ll likely feel as if you can do anything. And sometimes you may try. You may take great risks, thinking you can’t be hurt. The risks can involve dangerous physical, emotional, and financial decisions. You may also talk too fast, and your thoughts may race. You may go for days without sleeping. And you might be very active and do a lot of things in a short time. Manic episodes often end in a depression.

Depressive episodes

In depressive episodes, you feel intense, overwhelming sadness and depression. You may also feel worthless, tired, and helpless. Even the things you value most don’t give you pleasure. At times you may want to die. You may even think about taking your own life.

Warning signs for suicide

  • Thinking often about taking your life

  • Planning how you may attempt it

  • Talking or writing about committing suicide

  • Feeling that death is the only solution to your problems

  • Feeling a pressing need to make out your will or arrange your funeral

  • Giving away things you own

  • Participating in risky behaviors, such as sex with someone you don't know or drinking and driving

  • Buying a lethal weapon, such as a gun, or hoarding medicines that could be used in an overdose

Call 988

If you notice any of the warning signs for suicide, get help right away. Call or text 988. You will be connected to trained crisis counselors at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. An online chat option is also available at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. Lifeline is free and available 24/7.

How daily issues affect your health

Many things in your daily life impact your health. This can include transportation, money problems, housing, access to food, and childcare. If you can’t get to medical appointments, you may not receive the care you need. When money is tight, it may be difficult to pay for medicines. And living far from a grocery store can make it hard to buy healthy food.

If you have concerns in any of these or other areas, talk with your healthcare team. They may know of local resources to assist you. Or they may have a staff person who can help.

To learn more

For more information, use the resources below:

Online Medical Reviewer:L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer:Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer:Paul Ballas MD

Date Last Reviewed:7/1/2022

© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

Understanding Bipolar Disorder (2024)


How does a person with bipolar think in relationships? ›

A person may disagree with their partner more easily during a manic episode. They may also engage in potentially harmful behavior such as spending sprees or binge drinking. Major depressive episodes: A person may be less communicative during a period of depression.

What is it like to live with someone with bipolar disorder? ›

Being a close family or friend of someone with bipolar disorder (BD) can lead to experiences of increased stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms related to the burden of caring.

How do you calm a bipolar person? ›

Stay calm if you can. Help with breathing exercises or relaxation if they feel able to try these. Focus on supporting them with how they're feeling, rather than confirming or challenging their reality. Let them know that, although you don't share the belief, you understand that it feels real for them.

What is a person with bipolar like? ›

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition marked by intense mood changes. People with the illness switch back and forth from mania or hypomania (an emotional state of being energetic and gleeful or sometimes aggressive or delusional) to having episodes of depression.

How does a bipolar person act when angry? ›

Uncontrolled, intense, and unpredictable, the anger seems to begin without a trigger, such as a threat or frustration. People in the middle of bipolar anger can scream at and verbally abuse others just because they're there—and sometimes the person has no memory of doing so.

Why do bipolar people go silent? ›

They might be worried about hurting your feelings. Extreme mood fluctuations could make them feel distrustful of others. It's hard for people with bipolar to trust that they're fully supported. They might worry that they'll confide in you, only for you to respond with judgmental comments or frustration.

What is a bipolar meltdown? ›

The phrase “bipolar meltdown” could refer to a bipolar person having a manic episode or being in a depressed state. These conditions could cause them to lose control of their emotions and have trouble managing them.

What is bipolar ghosting? ›

When your loved one is feeling depressed or isolated, they may want to push you away. They may even avoid all contact or communication with you. You may have heard of this as “bipolar ghosting.” When this happens, it does not mean that they are cutting you off.

What are bipolar facial features? ›

On a background of minor dysmorphologies of the upper face, maxilla, midface and periorbital region, the main features in bipolar disorder are (a) retrusion and shortening of the premaxilla, nose, philtrum, lips and mouth (the frontonasal prominences), with (b) protrusion and widening of the mandible-chin.

Why is bipolar so hard to live with? ›

A person who has bipolar disorder also experiences changes in their energy, thinking, behavior, and sleep. During bipolar mood episodes, it is difficult to carry out day-to-day tasks, go to work or school, and maintain relationships.

What is end stage bipolar disorder? ›

Early stages of illness are characterized by a history of few previous mood episodes and full functional recovery in the euthymic interval between them. Late stages are characterized by chronic cognitive and functional impairment, often with subsyndromal mood symptoms.

Why do bipolar people push partners away? ›

Individuals with bipolar disorder often experience periods of withdrawal, where they push away the people closest to them. This behavior can stem from various factors, including feelings of shame, guilt, fear of burdening others, or the belief that isolation is the only solution.

Why do bipolar people have a hard time with relationships? ›

Extreme Shifts In Mood & Behavior

Feelings toward a partner may not always be constant as moods may shift their perspective of the relationship, making it hard to build trust. Feelings of depression may lead the partner with bipolar disorder to think that: Others do not understand them. They are burdening others.

Do people with bipolar think they have it? ›

So no, not everyone who has bipolar disorder knows they have it. There are lots of reasons why someone with bipolar disorder might not realize it—or why they might deny having it even if they do. If you think someone you know might have untreated bipolar disorder, there are a few things you can do to help.

What to know when dating someone with bipolar disorder? ›

Bipolar disorder can cause shifts in mood, which may affect relationships. Open communication and honesty can help you maintain a healthy relationship when one person is managing the condition. The shifts in mood associated with bipolar disorder can cause extreme changes in behavior.


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