A deep dive into bipolar disorder

Bipolar Disorder Day is a special day dedicated to shedding light on this complex condition. Bipolar disorder touches millions of lives across the globe, yet there is often still so much misunderstanding and stigma around it. Despite this, bipolar disorder is more manageable than ever, with the recognition that each person experiences the condition in a unique way and with their own challenges and achievements.

In honour of Bipolar Disorder Day, we will delve deep into the condition’s complexities, how it affects those who live with it, and the importance of spreading awareness. Whether you are personally navigating bipolar disorder, supporting someone who is, or simply here to broaden your understanding, we hope this blog can provide some useful insights.

Did you know…?

World Bipolar Day is marked annually on March 30th, the birthday of Vincent Van Gogh, who received a bipolar disorder diagnosis after his death. The day serves as a powerful reminder to educate, clarify misconceptions and eliminate the stigma surrounding bipolar disorder, promoting a global shift towards understanding and acceptance.

Getting to know bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is kind of like being on an emotional rollercoaster that you didn’t sign up for. It swings you high with intense excitement and energy (called manic or hypomanic episodes). Then, it drops you low into periods where you may feel incredibly sad or hopeless (known as depressive episodes).

Despite common misconceptions, bipolar disorder is a lot more complex than just having mood swings. The erratic and unpredictable nature of the episodes can make daily life a constant struggle, deeply affecting how a person feels, thinks and handles daily life.

It’s thought that about 2.5% of people will experience bipolar disorder at some point, showing just how common it is worldwide. And yet, despite so many people living with it, there is still a lot of misunderstanding and stigma out there, making it doubly tough for those dealing with it to speak up and seek the help they need.

Exploring the many faces of bipolar disorder

Perhaps one of the most important things to understand about bipolar disorder is that it doesn’t just come in one flavour. It has various subtypes, each with its own symptoms and challenges. This variety means that what works as treatment or support for one person may not be the best for another, and this is why understanding the nuances of the condition is so important.

Bipolar I disorder

Bipolar I disorder may be what many think of first. It is known for its manic episodes that last a week or more or are so intense that professional medical care is needed. During these episodes, the person may feel super energised or irritable, need less sleep and do potentially risky things that are out of character. As well as these “highs”, there can also be periods of deep depression where it can feel hard to even get out of bed.

Bipolar II disorder

Bipolar II disorder involves periods of depression just as deep and challenging as Bipolar I, but the highs are a bit different. Instead of full-on manic episodes, people experience what is called hypomania, a milder form of mania where the person may feel more productive and full of ideas but doesn’t tip into the extremes or lead to hospitalisation.

It is very important not to see Bipolar II as just a lighter version of Bipolar I. The depression in Bipolar II can be just as severe, and the rapid changes between moods can be incredibly challenging to navigate.


Cyclothymia, or cyclothymic disorder, is another type where people experience milder highs and lows, but for a longer period. This can be very tough because the mood swings are persistent and can disrupt life in sneaky ways, even though they may not hit the intense highs and lows of the other types.

For some people, the symptoms of bipolar disorder don’t fit neatly into any of these categories. They may still face significant challenges that impact their daily lives, even if their experience doesn’t align with the classic definitions of Bipolar I, II or cyclothymia.

Getting a handle on these subtypes isn’t just academic; it is about understanding the real, lived experiences of those with bipolar disorder. This helps find the right treatment paths and build support systems that truly get what someone is going through.

Click the image above to hear about the singer Selena Gomez’s experiences with bipolar disorder

Navigating manic and depressive episodes

Bipolar disorder is like being on a seesaw of emotions, where the ups are just as significant as the downs. Understanding these episodes is key to grasping the bipolar experience.

Manic episodes

Manic episodes are a bit like having an engine inside you that is revved up to the max. This can result in an extreme increase in energy and activity levels that are totally out of your control. People may find themselves talking a mile a minute, sleeping very little, and feeling like they can conquer the world. While this may not seem like a major issue, it can severely affect decision-making, leading to dangerous behaviour like reckless driving, unaffordable spending sprees, or substance abuse.

Hypomanic episodes

These are similar to manic episodes but less intense. They don’t quite disrupt life in the same way or require hospitalisation, but they are still a noticeable shift from someone’s usual mood and behaviour. This is what people with Bipolar II experience, and while it may seem more manageable on the surface, it can still be incredibly challenging.

Depressive episodes

Then, the seesaw tips the other way. Depressive episodes are deep, prolonged periods of sadness or hopelessness, losing interest in almost everything, feeling sluggish or incredibly agitated and even thoughts of death or suicide. These episodes can last for two weeks or more and are often what prompts someone to seek help.

Understanding these episodes – both for those experiencing them and their loved ones – is crucial. This means learning to recognise the signs, knowing when to seek help and how to support someone through these times. Whether that’s encouraging someone to talk to their doctor about a manic episode that’s spiralling or being there for someone during the depths of depression, simple understanding can be a powerful tool.

Understanding the catalysts

Bipolar disorder’s episodes can sometimes seem like they appear out of the blue but often there are triggers and underlying causes at play. By understanding what might set off these episodes and the factors contributing to the disorder, individuals and their support networks can become better equipped to manage and possibly mitigate some of these influences.

Triggers to watch out for

Life isn’t always smooth sailing, and for someone with bipolar disorder, certain life events or changes can act as triggers. Stressful events like losing a job, relationship difficulties or even positive stressors like planning a wedding can set the stage for an episode. Lack of sleep is another significant trigger while sometimes, even something as simple as a change in seasons can impact mood significantly. In fact, one study found that depressive episodes tend to peak in early Winter, while mixed episodes are most common in the spring and summer.

Below the surface factors

While triggers can set off specific episodes, the underlying causes of bipolar disorder are a bit more complex. Genetics play a substantial role, so if a close family member has bipolar disorder, the chances of developing it are higher. This genetic predisposition, combined with environmental and everyday stressors, can lead to the onset of the disorder. The way different individuals process their thoughts and emotions – essentially, their psychological makeup – can also influence the risk.

The role of dual diagnosis

It’s not uncommon for someone with bipolar disorder to face other mental health challenges, such as anxiety, substance abuse, schizophrenia and depression. This co-occurrence, known as dual diagnosis, can complicate the treatment and management of bipolar disorder, so understanding and addressing the overlapping conditions is critical for effective care.

Click here to find out more about this year’s events and activities hosted by Bipolar UK.


Paths to stability

Managing bipolar disorder is a journey, not a one-time fix. It involves a combination of professional healthcare, personal coping strategies and strong support networks. Finding the right balance can help individuals lead fulfilling lives despite the conditions’ challenges.
The cornerstone of managing bipolar disorder is professional mental health treatment. This often includes a mix of medication and psychotherapy tailored to the individual’s specific needs and symptoms. Mental health treatment centres like UKAT London Clinic assess each person’s situation, diagnose thoroughly, and devise a treatment and management plan to provide the best possible outcomes.


Medications like mood stabilisers, antipsychotics and sometimes antidepressants play a crucial role in managing the extreme mood swings of bipolar disorder. However, finding the right medication or combination of medications can be a process of trial and error, requiring patience and open communication with healthcare providers.


Therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), psychoeducation and family therapy are invaluable. They equip individuals and their families with strategies to manage symptoms, recognise warning signs of episodes and deal with the impacts of the disorder on life and relationships.

Inpatient treatment

For some people, especially during severe episodes, mental health treatment centres can provide the necessary intensive support and monitoring. These inpatient facilities offer a range of services, such as medication-assisted treatment and dual diagnosis care, helping individuals regain stability in a structured, supportive environment.

Ongoing management

Beyond the initial treatment, ongoing management is vital for long-term stability. This includes regular check-ins with mental health professionals, medication management and lifestyle adjustments such as regular exercise, stress management and stable sleep patterns.

Support systems

A strong network of friends, family and peer support groups can provide the understanding and encouragement needed. This includes education about bipolar disorder for both the individual and their loved ones, which ensures that everyone is pulling in the same direction and fosters a supportive environment.

Final thoughts

Bipolar disorder, with its highs and lows, affects millions of people around the world. However, through understanding, proper treatment and strong support networks, individuals living with bipolar disorder can lead rich, rewarding lives. On this Bipolar Disorder Day, let’s all advocate for mental health awareness not just today but every day. As we work together to dismantle the stigma surrounding bipolar disorder, we pave the way for a future where mental health is openly discussed and valued and where everyone feels empowered to seek help without fear of judgement.

Happy Bipolar Day and Happy Birthday, Vincent Van Gogh!

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