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What is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness and mood disorder with distinct high moods (manic stage) and equally obvious lows (depressive stage).

Bipolar disorder often begins with depression during your teen years or early adulthood, although the first manic episode might not happen until some years later. Early signs can vary from person to person, and it can take some time before an assessment is made.

Facts about bipolar disorder

  • Bipolar disorder affects approximately 3% of the population
  • The first major instance of depression usually occurs in your 20s
  • Like other mental illnesses, there is no single cause of bipolar disorder
  • Bipolar disorder can happen to anyone and there is no shame or blame

Researchers believe that a combination of genetics (the characteristics you inherit from your parents) and brain chemistry both play a major role in producing this illness. A person’s personality, along with specific stresses in that person’s environment, may also play a part in bringing on an episode of mania or depression.

Recovering from BiPolar Disorder

We’ve made a lot of progress in understanding and treating Bipolar disorders.

Treatment is tailored to the severity of the disorder. Medication is prescribed and monitored by a Doctor, and counselling is almost always recommended.

Remember, Bipolar disorder is very treatable and recovery is expected. With help from a mental health professional, and support from family and friends, recovery is possible.

You can think of recovery as part of a personal journey to feel a degree of control over your life, and to have meaningful relationships with people you trust – whether they are family members, friends, or people at school or work.

Recovery also means different things to each person. For some, recovery means that symptoms will not persist, while for others, recovery means learning to live a full life despite any ongoing symptoms.

Signs & Symptoms

Note: These symptoms are not necessarily present all the time, and this list should not be used to diagnose yourself or someone else. This is intended only to provide general information. If you think you might be experiencing a mental illness, you should see your doctor for an accurate assessment and treatment plan.

Signs and symptoms can include:

  • Excessive energy
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Too many ideas and plans
  • Lack of understanding that not all plans and activities can be accomplished in a given period of time
  • Sprees of spending and partying, often including using drugs and/or alcohol, and increased sexual activity
  • Noticeable changes in personality and behaviours
  • Jumping from topic to topic, quickly changing ideas while speaking or tense, pressured speech (can’t stop talking)
  • Increased irritability or unprovoked short-temperedness
  • Illogical thoughts, which can extend to irrational beliefs, such as superhuman abilities or the ability to execute an unrealistic plan

Getting help

Seek emergency help immediately if you are having suicidal thoughts, or thoughts of harming yourself or others.

You should also seek help right away if you:

  • Have trouble with alcohol or drug use, or have other mental health concerns
  • Think your symptoms could be linked to a physical health problem
  • Are experiencing prolonged trouble sleeping
  • Feel as though normal life stresses don’t explain your symptoms

What can be helpful?

  • Medications that are prescribed and monitored by a physician
  • Stress management (along with medication) to control manic and depressive episodes
  • Counselling from a professional – Early intervention:
    • trying to improve target areas in your life – school, work, recreation, healthy eating and exercise – can promote earlier recovery and fewer recurrences of the disorder.

Your physician and/or counsellor can work with you until you have recovered more fully.

Try to talk to someone about how you feel. Sharing concerns with someone you trust can help keep you safe and direct you to medical help if necessary. Think about talking to:

  • A parent or other family member
  • Your school guidance counsellor
  • Medical personnel, such as your doctor or a nurse at a clinic, band office or nursing station
  • Staff at a teen clinic

Bipolar disorder is usually treated with medication and counselling. Counselling offers productive ways to deal with problems, and also helps you to find easier ways to talk about things that are bothering you. Counselling also teaches coping skills, which help you to manage any stresses you might be feeling. Sometimes this can take time, so it’s best to keep attending counselling even if you find it slow or hard the first few times.

Remember that bipolar disorder can be treated successfully and recovery is expected, but ongoing monitoring and tailoring your treatment plan is also recommended to help promote an earlier recovery.

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