“On a day-to-day basis I still have to manage moods and I have to be very careful about things like stress.”
Experiencing changes in your mood is part of being human. However, if you have bipolar disorder, your mood changes will be more extreme and may last for longer periods. You are likely to experience two highly contrasting mood states – mania and depression.
During mania, you can feel elated and euphoric. You may have lots of energy, and feel you don't need as much sleep as usual. Your thoughts may race and you may also talk fast. You can be the life of the party and feel confident and invincible. As the mania continues, you may start feeling irritable and aggressive. Your thoughts can become muddled or even delusional.
During depression you can feel pessimistic and very low. You may have little energy and can experience changes to your sleeping pattern – from insomnia to excessive sleeping. You may burst into tears for no apparent reason, and withdraw from social life. Your thoughts may be slow, and concentration can be poor, as can interest in daily life. You may feel hopeless and have thoughts of ending your life.
There are different types of bipolar disorder, and they can vary greatly in how strongly you experience mood changes – although all forms of bipolar disorder can seriously affect how you live your life. Bipolar episodes usually last at least a week, and the time between episodes can differ from person to person, and over time – from days to months, or years. You may have just one or two in your whole life.
It can be difficult to identify bipolar disorder, as the changes to your mood might seem like separate and unconnected events. For this reason, some people can go for years without being diagnosed. Bipolar and related disorders can start at any age, although they are more likely to start during the teen years or early twenties.
Bipolar disorder affects at least 1 in every 50 adult Australians every year.
Taking action for change
Learning more about bipolar can help
Get to know your mood cycles
Psychological treatments can be effective
Maintain a healthy lifestyle
Helping someone with bipolar disorder
Bipolar disorder can strain families and friendships. It may help to organise a close group of friends to share the load where possible. Family therapy can help family members understand their own limits, as well as those of the person with bipolar disorder.
Other useful actions you can take include: learning more about bipolar disorders from the resources below, encouraging someone who is showing symptoms to speak to a medical professional, and supporting them in developing strategies to cope with stress and anxiety.
Find out more about caring for someone with a mental health condition on our Support for carers page.
Living in the country when you have a mental health problem is easier because it's a small place and you have that informal network – supportive, understanding neighbours or friends. But the cons are that you don't have the choices that people have in the big city. You don't have the access to mental health services. And when things go wrong, it tends to be a whole lot less private.
I had periods of depression and mania from childhood right through my twenties, but didn't know what happening to me. I was 35 before I was finally diagnosed correctly with bipolar disorder. That's quite common, as many people get diagnosed with depression, but don't realise they're unwell or seek help when they're in the middle of a manic episode.
What I've learned about recovery is that it's an up and down journey, particularly because I was initially diagnosed with depression, then bipolar disorder. Diagnosis can sometimes take a long time.