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Bipolar Disorder

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Bipolar disorder involves mood swings from high ‘manic’ states to low ‘depressed’ states. Unstable mood can mess with your life, but it doesn’t have to stay that way; get support to start your recovery and regain control of your mood.

What is Bipolar Affective Disorder?

Bipolar Affective Disorder - previously known as ‘manic depression’ - involves experiencing extreme mood swings from high ‘manic’ states to low ‘depressed’ states. These can be hours, days or months apart and you’ll probably be unaware of when they’re going to occur.

Of course everyone experiences some degree of mood changes, it keeps life interesting, but the difference is that with bipolar disorders these can be very intense and distressing both for you and others around you.

What is an Episode?

An episode – the time in which you are unwell - can be either depressive or manic to begin with.

Episodes can be: hypomanic; manic without psychotic symptoms; manic with psychotic symptoms; mild or moderate depression; severe depression without psychotic symptoms; severe depression with psychotic symptoms; or mixed.

  • Manic episodes usually begin abruptly and last for between 2 weeks - 5 months.
  • Depressions tend to last longer than manic episodes, (often many months, except in the rapid cycling type of bipolar).

You can have one or two episodes or they can occur throughout your life. Recovery may or may not be complete between these episodes and the pattern of recovery and relapse can be different for everyone.

It was like a whirlwind, that’s the only way I can describe it, it was like the world was going too fast or too slow. People can’t keep up with you, if you could bounce off the walls you would.

Mark, Bipolar episode at 19yrs

Help Steps

  1. Step 1: Talk to someone you trust.

    This could be your best mate, parents, boyfriend, girlfriend or tutor. It might feel difficult but it is an important step towards help and support. If you find it hard to start the conversation perhaps print and take this booklet with you and discuss what symptoms you think you may have.

    Talking it over is important for lots of reasons:

    • it can be a weight off your mind to say it out loud;
    • you will need their support if you are struggling;
    • someone just being there can help you relax and feel less isolated;
    • they can offer reassurance that things will get better;
    • they can motivate you when you cannot motivate yourself;
    • they can help you find help or help you with practical things like booking appointments.

    We really recommend talking to someone but if you feel you can’t talk to someone you know then try a helpline like the Samaritans.

  2. Step 2: Self-help

    Self-help therapies are a range of techniques you can apply yourself to help cope with stress and feel in control.

    They are unlikely to treat bipolar disorder alone but can be done alongside any other therapy you may be having.

    Self-help could be completing exercises that you complete online, read, watch or listen to, it could be using relaxation training or it could be attending support groups. Have a look at our resources for bipolar disorder.

  3. Step 3: Find professional help and support

    Mood swings can be distressing and bipolar disorder is unlikely to go away without professional help so don’t try and handle it alone.

    Contact your GP for a referral to an appropriate service such as a mood disorder team, counselling, psychological therapy or medication.

    There are lots of local and national support networks that your GP will be able to put you in touch with. Have a look at 'getting help' above and see our Interactive map for local help in Birmingham.

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