Bipolar disorder is a condition predominantly affecting mood. People with bipolar disorder tend to experience periods of low mood (also known as depression) and periods of elevated/high mood (also known as mania). Of course it is a perfectly healthy part of the human condition to experience a range of moods, however in bipolar disorder moods can swing from an extreme high to an extreme low in a way which affects day-to-day functioning.
Bipolar disorder has two subtypes, bipolar I and bipolar II. Bipolar I disorder is diagnosed when a person has experienced at least one episode of mania that lasts longer than 1 week; the majority of people (around 90%) will also have periods of depression. Bipolar II disorder is diagnosed when a person has had at least 1 period of significant depression and at least 1 period of hypomania (similar to mania but milder).
Changes in mood in bipolar disorder can last for several weeks or months at a time and are frequently severe enough to interfere with daily life. Some people find that they cycle between these two extremes with periods of ‘normal’ mood between episodes, others don’t experience a period of ‘normal’ mood between episodes. It is also possible to experience a mixed state where symptoms of both depression and mania are present simultaneously. The symptoms during an episode can also affect energy and activity levels as well as ability to function. Bipolar disorder is considered to be a lifelong diagnosis, however there are many ways in which people are able to manage their mood.
Actions that can help
- Start a mood diary and make a daily record of how high or low your mood is, for example on a scale of 0-10. By recording your mood you may be able to detect changes early and identify triggers.
- Where possible, try to address stressful situations in your life and engage in activities to alleviate their impact (such as meditation, mindfulness and asking for support).
- If you notice your mood is starting to become high or low, it can help to try to maintain your usual routine, for example eating and going to bed/getting up at regular times.
- Identify a trusted person who you can reach out to when you start to notice mood changes - getting help early on can minimise the impact of an episode low or high mood.
- Many organisations have self-help or support groups you can join. Sharing ideas and with others who have had similar experiences can be helpful for managing mood.