Bipolar Disorder

Are you concerned that you, or someone you care about, may be suffering from bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder has all of the same characteristics of depression, but is also characterised by periods of time during which the person feels elated, energized, grandiose, angry or irritable, in between the periods of low mood, sadness and lack of energy. These moods swing from one polarity of depression and feeling down, to the opposite polarity of feeling high or excited and/or irritable, and energized, in cycles that come and go over time.

With bipolar disorder there is a noticeable difference in mood as you swing between the two poles of down feelings and up feelings:





Loss of initiative

Inability to function



Despair / hopeless


Anger / irritability


Inability to slow down or stop



Excitement / elation

The pattern of these mood swings will differ in the way they present in each individual according to the type and severity of the symptoms, the length of time the cycle lasts and the time between the cycles.

Most people have more depressive episodes than elevated episodes, which are called hypomanic or manic episodes, though this is not always the case. Bipolar Disorder used to be called “Manic Depression” but it is now recognised that there are many types of Bipolar Disorder with different balances between the two extremes.

The key differentiating characteristic of Bipolar Disorder is the experience of mood swings where there is a period of time where you experience the “downs” or depressed mood symptoms, alternating with the “ups” or elevated mood symptoms. These mood cycles can vary in duration, and length of time between episodes. There can often be periods of normal mood in between the depressed and elevated mood cycles.

If left untreated Bipolar Disorder in a depressive episode can result in feelings of despair and hopelessness, increasing isolation and powerlessness and eventually suicidal thinking, while a manic or hypomanic episode can lead to many problematic consequences ranging from impulsive/poor decision making to delusions, hallucinations and psychosis.

It is crucial to seek support and treatment before a crisis develops.

Episodes of depression and hypomania can be related to other problems, such as alcohol and other substance abuse, and Anxiety Disorders, which need to be diagnosed and treated at the same time to prevent relapse.

Signs and Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

The Lows
Depressive Symptoms

The Highs
Hypomania or Manic Symptoms

  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Critical of and/or blaming self and/or others
  • Pessimistic thoughts
  • Lack of self esteem and/or loss of confidence
  • Loss of interest in aspects of life that would previously interested you
  • Difficulty focusing or concentrating
  • Thinking that life is not worth living, or despairing about the future
  • Thoughts of harming yourself, or thinking about suicide
  • Feeling overwhelmed and/or powerless at times
  • Feeling sad, guilty, lonely, agitated and or despairing at times
  • Feeling shame, worthless and/or inadequate at times
  • Feeling down even when good things happen
  • Loss of energy, or often feeling tired
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Loss of interest in sex, or sexual difficulties
  • Loss of enjoyment or interest in physical or social activities
  • Over eating or loss of appetite
  • Isolating and /or avoiding other people
  • Not getting as much done as much as you used to


  • Feeling elated, euphoric, or very happy
  • Feeling energized
  • Filled with creative ideas
  • Thinking or speaking quickly – jumping from one idea to another
  • Impulsive decision making
  • Impulsive spending or travelling
  • Needing little sleep
  • Feeling invincible
  • Thinking of grandiose schemes and  plans
  • Feeling as though you are having a “mystical” experience
  • Have trouble concentrating and easily distracted
  • Easily irritated and frustrated
  • Feeling angry when other people do not support your ideas
  • Using alcohol and drugs such as cocaine and sleeping medications
  • Showing poor boundaries – provoking or intruding on other people
  • Increased sexual drive
  • Unrealistic belief in your ability or power
  • Restless, difficulty relaxing
  • Denial that there is something wrong
  • Delusions - fixed, false, irrational or illogical beliefs
  • Hallucinations (hearing, seeing, or sensing things without there being a stimulus to cause them) can sometimes occur when someone is experiencing an acute manic episode.

Bipolar Disorder Realities

Recovery from, or learning to manage, Bipolar Disorder is likely to be more successful when underlying causes and environmental factors are addressed at the same time as the presenting symptoms and problems are treated.

Managing the depressive and hypomanic episodes of Bipolar Disorder can be challenging, exhausting and risky when attempting it alone. For this reason professional support and treatment is strongly recommended.

Bipolar Disorder is most effectively treated by health professionals (psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and nurses), who specialize in treating mood disorders.

If you would like to speak to someone who understands the challenges of living with Bipolar Disorder, and who can discuss the your particular situation and treatment needs, we suggest that you call our assessment team who will offer a free and confidential preliminary chat, or full assessment if that is your preference.

Take the first step into treatment by phoning or emailing our assessment team on 1800 063 332.

Do you need support right now?

If you are feeling hopeless, despairing or having thoughts of suicide, and need immediate help, we recommend you contact your doctor, local hospital, local mental health service, mental health professionals or Lifeline.

Lifeline 131114