What is bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder (or bipolar affective disorder) is a mental health problem that mainly affects your mood. If you have bipolar disorder, you are likely to have times where you experience:
- manic or hypomanic episodes (feeling high)
- depressive episodes (feeling low)
- potentially some psychotic symptoms during manic or depressed episodes
You might hear these different experiences referred to as mood states, and you can read more about them in our page on bipolar moods and symptoms.
Everyone has variations in their mood, but in bipolar disorder these changes can be very distressing and have a big impact on your life. You may feel that your high and low moods are extreme, and that swings in your mood are overwhelming.
Depending on the way you experience these mood states, and how severely they affect you, your doctor may diagnose you with a particular type of bipolar disorder.
“It’s an emotional amplifier: when my mood is high I feel far quicker, funnier, smarter and livelier than anyone; when my mood is low I take on the suffering of the whole world.”
Bipolar disorder or manic depression?
The term ‘bipolar’ refers to the way your mood can change between two very different states – mania and depression. In the past, bipolar disorder was referred to as manic depression, so you might still hear people use this term. Some health care professionals may also use the term bipolar affective disorder (‘affective’ means the disorder relates to mood or emotions).
Bipolar disorder and stigma
Many people have heard of bipolar disorder, but this doesn’t mean they understand the diagnosis fully. You might find that some people have misconceptions about you or have a negative or inaccurate image of bipolar disorder. This can be very upsetting, especially if someone who feels this way is a friend, colleague, family member or a healthcare professional.
But it’s important to remember that you aren’t alone, and you don’t have to put up with people treating you badly.
You can read more about dealing with stigma on our page on stigma and misconceptions. Here are some options for you to think about:
- Show people this information to help them understand more about what your diagnosis really means.
- Get more involved in your treatment. Our pages on seeking help for a mental health problem provide guidance on having your say in your treatment, making your voice heard, and steps you can take if you’re not happy with your care.
“What helps me the most is the ongoing realization and acceptance that the way in which my bipolar disorder manifests itself, and the symptoms I display, are not personality traits or ‘bad behaviour’.”