Bipolar Disorder

Medibank Health Directory

What is bipolar disorder?

It is estimated that one in 50 Australians are affected by bipolar disorder.

The illness usually reveals itself through sporadic episodes of intense highs followed by intense lows. There are a variety of treatments available that help curb the illness and can help you to lead a happy and healthy life.

Bipolar disorder used to be known as manic depression. It’s much more severe than simply feeling moody; and is characterised by periods of intense highs (mania), followed by intense lows (depression). These moods usually last about a week and – besides being completely exhausting – can take over your everyday life, as they affect the way you act, feel and think. 

There are two types of bipolar disorder – bipolar I and bipolar II. Bipolar I is the most intense form, as a severe episode usually needs to be treated under hospital care due to its severity and its potential for physical harm to the person who is suffering. Those with Bipolar I also have the potential to fall into psychosis – which means they have difficulty differentiating between reality and fantasy. Bipolar II is a less severe form with no psychotic episodes. 

The severity and frequency of the mood swings will vary from person to person. Some people will have one intense episode per year, while others will experience milder yet more frequent ups and downs. People who experience an episode usually respond well to treatment and there are also many community support networks available. 

Symptoms of bipolar disorder

Symptoms of bipolar disorder usually appear by the age of 25. You’ll notice a change with how the person may be dealing with their relationships, work or study; and you may also see heightened states of energy followed by a period of depression.

During the period of intense high (mania), these are the sorts of symptoms to watch out for:

  • feeling 'on top of the world'
  • a feeling of grandiosity, for example, thinking they have impossible talents
  • rapid thoughts and fast talking which can be difficult to follow
  • not feeling the need to sleep
  • irritability

Some people feel fantastic when experiencing a 'high' and not understand the need for help, whereas some people can feel quite out of control and scared.

This 'high' period will pass after a number of days and will soon be followed by days, or weeks, of depression with symptoms such as:

  • loss of appetite
  • extreme sadness
  • inability to concentrate
  • feelings of guilt
  • possible suicidal thoughts.

There are treatments available that can reduce or even eliminate these symptoms, so as to not disrupt everyday life.

Causes and treatment of bipolar disorder

It is not fully understood what causes bipolar disorder, although some research has found that it may be hereditary, caused by unbalanced levels of mood regulators in the brain, or triggered by stressful events. 

Treatment for bipolar disorder is usually a combination of medication and psychological therapy. The medication may be a mood-stabiliser, antidepressant or sedative. As every person is different, the combination and dosage of medications widely vary. 

Psychological treatments assist in learning how to understand changes in mood and behaviour, and also to make an action plan for ongoing health and wellbeing. There are easy lifestyle changes that also make an impact, such as healthy eating, sleeping well, avoiding alcohol and drugs, and maintaining a positive work/life balance. 

There are also many community groups who are there to help. The earlier bipolar is diagnosed, the easier it will be to maintain a fulfilling life, and to learn which coping mechanisms work best to help you through the rough patches. 

Further information and sources



This article is of a general nature only. You should always seek medical advice if you think you may have the symptoms of bipolar disorder. For more information, see  Better Health Channel. 


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