Bipolar Disorder

Two similar-looking men sitting on couch. One man with head in hands, one man smiling.

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition. People with bipolar disorder have mood swings, from feeling unusually happy or high (manic) or feeling incredibly low and depressed. These mood swings happen regardless of what’s going on in a person’s life. The changes in mood can even become mixed so that a person can feel manic and depressed at the same time. Mood swings can last days to months, and even years and can affect people’s thinking, functioning, and everyday activities. The Global Burden of Disease Study in 2013 found that Bipolar I and II occur in about 1.2% of the population1.

The exact cause of Bipolar Disorder is unknown, but genetics, environment, brain structure, and chemistry may play a role. Results from research studies have shown that people who have a first-degree relative with the condition, like a parent or sibling, have a higher likelihood of having the disorder. Although people with a parent or sibling with bipolar disorder are more likely to develop the disorder themselves, most people with a family history of bipolar disorder will not develop the illness. Environmental factors such as stress and trauma also probably factor into the development of bipolar disorder.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder


  • Impulsivity
  • Talkativeness
  • High energy
  • Sleeplessness or periods of unusually high energy
  • Euphoria
  • Irritation
  • Edginess or anger
  • Recklessness


  • Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” mood
  • Loss of energy
  • Lack of concentration
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness
  • Feeling agitated or irritable
  • Increased sense of guilt
  • Changes in appetite or sleep – increase or decrease
  • Lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Feelings and thoughts of wanting to die
  • Self-harm or suicidal behavior

Similar to other mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, there is no specific blood test or imaging study that can tell someone whether they have bipolar disorder. Meeting with a professional and discussing symptoms is the first step toward a diagnosis. The condition can be confusing and painful for those living with it, as well as for their loved ones. Fortunately, there are treatments and other options to help people manage the condition.

The most important element for a person to move forward with the condition is hope. Hope is the feeling that there is an attainable future and that it is possible to achieve this future. Some days, a person with bipolar disorder may be able to feel hopeful on their own. Others, they may need the support or help of a loved one or someone who cares about them to remind them that this hope is possible.

While there is no cure for the condition, many who live with bipolar disorder are able to pursue full, meaningful, and successful lives. Living successfully with the disorder requires a number of skills, like working on staying connected to others, remaining up to date on education regarding the condition and treatment, and establishing a healthy routine.


  1. Ferrari AJ, Stockings E, Khoo JP, et al. The prevalence and burden of bipolar disorder: findings from the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013. Bipolar Disord. 2016;18:440‐50.

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