Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is a serious mental health condition that affects around 2 per cent of the population. Bipolar used to be known as 'manic depression', because people tend to experience extreme moods – both low (depressed), and high or excited (manic). If you notice these symptoms in yourself or someone close to you, it's important to seek professional support and treatment. 

What causes bipolar disorder?

While the causes of bipolar disorder are not fully known, a combination of genetic and other factors are usually associated with its development. As with other mental health conditions, a family history of bipolar disorder can increase the likelihood of someone developing the condition at some point in their life.

Signs and symptoms

People with bipolar disorder experience extreme highs and lows. In a high (manic) state, people may behave in an over-excited or reckless way. Everything speeds up – their thoughts, speech and movements – and they may have difficulty focusing on tasks or feel frustrated and irritable. The symptoms of a low or depressed state are the same as those for people experiencing depression. These include feeling low or sad, withdrawing from friends and family, and losing interest in previously enjoyable activities.      

Recognising a manic state

  • Increased energy
  • Irritability
  • Overactivity
  • Increased spending
  • Increased sex drive
  • Racing thoughts
  • Rapid speech
  • Decreased sleep
  • Grandiose ideas
  • Hallucinations and/or delusions

My brain has gone at a thousand miles an hour. I’ve had periods in my life when I virtually couldn’t sleep at night...because my brain was going mad. Not mad, it was creative. Millions of thoughts, millions of ideas.

Recognising a depressed state

  • Low mood
  • Irritability
  • Loss or change of appetite
  • Lack of motivation
  • Low self-esteem
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Difficulty managing small tasks or making simple decisions
I was suicidal, withdrawn, isolated, hating the world, thinking everyone hated me.


Treatment and support

A combination of medical and psychological treatments is used to treat bipolar disorder. While everyone's different, the evidence shows that medication plays an important role in treatment in most cases. The most important thing is to receive a treatment that works for you, and your doctor can help with this.

Visit the Black Dog Institute and SANE Australia websites for further information on treatment options and where to seek support.

Read more about bipolar disorder in new and expecting mothers. 

Need immediate support?

Talk it through with our Support Service, any time of the day or night. We can point you in the right direction.

If you are in an emergency, or at immediate risk to yourself or others, please contact emergency services on 000.