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What is Bipolar Disorder?

Published on 15th Feb 2016
Encompass Blog and Updates

Almost everyone has heard of depression but Bipolar Disorder (sometimes referred to as “manic depression”) is a less widely known mental condition – but what is it exactly?


Unlike depression, which is characterised by low energy and diminished mood, Bipolar Disorder manifests itself under two antonymous phases: mania and depression, both of which encompass very different emotions.

Because people living with Bipolar Disorder regularly change from one state to the other, their emotions, mood, motivation and energy often fluctuate greatly, which can make it challenging for people without the disorder to relate to.

Manic Episodes

The state of mania is manifested by periods of exaggerated thoughts and overactive behaviour. Some examples of manic symptoms can include:

  • Increased happiness, confidence and self-esteem
  • Becoming more talkative and socially active
  • Increased sexual desire
  • Increased aggression and volatility
  • Loss of concentration and focus in daily tasks

Although some symptoms of mania may not necessarily be perceived as “negative”, there are many which can affect the day to day life including performance at work and engagement in social activities. The experience of moving regularly between the two states can be unsettling.

Other less obvious factors of mania may include spending money in excess, working long hours and avoiding healthy sleep routines. These types of behaviour can create a cycle whereby elevated moods and behaviour can trigger an episode of depression as a result.

Another form of Mania is “Hypomania”. This is similar in terms of its characteristics (elation and exaggerated tendencies), but it is comparatively less severe and, unlike mania, does not cause a significant detriment to an individual’s functioning or their relationship with the people around them.

Depression and Negative Thoughts

Contrastingly, the second half of Bipolar Disorder is depression. Unlike standalone diagnoses, the depression stage of Bipolar Disorder can be intensified by the transition to and from episodes of mania, making it challenging to cope with both for the individual as well their friends and family.

During this phase, it is common to encounter feelings of low self-esteem, sadness, lethargy; a lack of motivation and, in extreme cases, those living with the disorder may even experience thoughts of death or have suicidal tendencies.

Bipolar depression is similar to clinical depression in a number of ways, however, with the former, individuals are more susceptible to sleeping more, gaining weight and experiencing extreme mood swings on a regular basis.


Although there is currently no definitive cure, people living with Bipolar Disorder can undergo courses of medication, partake in therapy sessions and make tactical lifestyle changes which can all help to alleviate the associated symptoms.

Various medications can be prescribed and this is usually on a long term basis. Commonly, medicines known as “mood stabilisers” are given to individuals who help to reduce the acuteness of their emotions during both phases.

Therapy and lifestyle changes are holistic alternatives which can also prove to be beneficial. Psychiatrists work with individuals to help identify stressors and potential catalysts for mood changes as well as providing advice on how to manage their emotions.

The use of therapy and the incorporation of healthy lifestyle choices (such as exercise, diet changes and increased social activity) have been known to allow people with Bipolar Disorder and other mental health illnesses to reduce their intake of medication.

If you found this blog helpful, why not learn about the 4 main symptoms of Schizophrenia?

Encompass Dorset provide a range of services designed to improve the lives of people living with enduring mental health illnesses and learning difficulties.