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Life can have its ups and downs, but if it fluctuates too much, it can lead to problems. Here we explain what bipolar disorder is and how to get help.

What is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterized by extreme swings in mood, energy and activity levels. These fluctuations result in periods of manic (or hypomanic) and depressive episodes.

There are several types of bipolar disorder, including type 1, type 2, and cyclothymia, depending on the severity and duration of manic and depressive periods, with type 1 being the most severe form. It is a disease treated in specialist psychiatry.

According to the Mental Health Commission (Australia) 50% of all adult mental health issues emerge before the age of 14.

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What causes bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental and psychological factors. For bipolar disorder, there is a strong genetic component, as the risk increases if a close relative has the disorder. Biological factors include changes in brain structure and chemical imbalances. Environmental factors such as stressful life events can trigger the disease in genetically prone individuals. Hormonal imbalances can also play a role. Bipolar disorder is a complex condition that requires professional treatment.

How common is bipolar disorder?

According to Bipolar Australia, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that the condition affects 2.9% of Australians aged 16 and over, or 568,000 people.


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Symptoms of bipolar disorder

The symptoms of bipolar disorder vary depending on the type of mood swings experienced – manic, hypomanic or depressive episodes:

  1. Manic Episodes: Here you often experience excessive energy, activity and restlessness with extremely elevated mood or irritability. There may be reduced need for sleep and increased talkativeness or rapid speech. Racing thoughts and being easily distracted are common and you may have an exaggerated belief in your own abilities. Risky behaviours such as impulsive money or sexual adventures are also common.
  2. Hypomanic Episodes: Similar to manic episodes but less severe and less disruptive to everyday life. However, they can still lead to noticeable changes in behaviour and mood.
  3. Depressive Episodes: Prolonged sadness, hopelessness or emptiness with loss of interest or pleasure in most activities. There may be changes in weight and appetite and problems sleeping (too much or too little). Restlessness or sluggishness is common, as is fatigue or lack of energy. Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or unfair guilt, difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions, and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide are common.

Bipolar disorder often involves cycles of these mood swings, which vary in length and intensity. Diagnosis and treatment of bipolar disorder should be handled by a qualified health professional in a specialist psychiatric hospital. You can get a referral from your GP or contact them directly.

Treatment of bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is diagnosed and treated in specialist psychiatry and is not something we do at Lavendla. Treatment usually includes medication, but also psychological treatment. Family members may also receive support as part of the treatment. In addition, it is important to adapt the therapy to the individual’s specific needs and situation, and to take into account lifestyle factors. If you have bipolar disorder, routines, avoiding alcohol, working on your sleep, exercising regularly and managing stress are key. The disease is also monitored regularly with annual check-ups. It is possible to live a normal life if you take care of your bipolar disorder.

As these conditions can be severe, it is not uncommon for people to be admitted to inpatient care during acute episodes. If you or someone you know is experiencing manic or delusional behaviour, call emergency services on 000 or Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 (24 hour service).


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Being a relative of someone with bipolar disorder

It is important to get knowledge and information about the illness yourself if you are a family member. You can also offer emotional support, but remember that you are not a substitute for qualified care. There are also family groups and training courses that can be helpful, often provided by specialist psychiatric services or non-profit associations. It is also good to be aware of heredity and take care of yourself if you are the child of someone with bipolar disorder.

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Approaching the topic of bipolar disorder can feel overwhelming, but we are here to make the hard part easier. When you feel it’s time to talk to a psychologist or therapist, you can easily book a session with us. No matter when you take the step, our experienced team is always ready to help you or your loved ones.


12 frequently asked questions about bipolar disorder

What is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a chronic condition with alternating periods of depression and mania or a mixture of the two. These alternations can be so extreme that they disrupt a person’s daily life and functioning.

How common is bipolar disorder?

According to Bipolar Australia, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that the condition affects 2.9% of Australians aged 16 and over, or 568,000 people.

What are the symptoms of bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme swings in mood, energy and activity levels. These fluctuations result in periods of manic (or hypomanic) and depressive episodes.

What is psychosis?

Psychotic illness, often just called psychosis, is a psychiatric condition in which a person has difficulty distinguishing between what is reality and what is not. Psychosis is not a disease in itself, but rather a symptom that can occur in various mental health conditions, such as bipolar disorder, major depression, or as a result of certain medical conditions or substance use.

What causes bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental and psychological factors. There is a strong hereditary component although other factors such as biology, life events and hormones also have an impact.

What are the treatment options for bipolar disorder?

Treatment usually includes medication, but also psychological treatment. Family members may also receive support as part of the treatment. It is also important to take into account lifestyle factors and have regular follow-up.

Are there different forms of bipolar disorder?

There are several types of bipolar disorder, including type 1, type 2, and cyclothymia, depending on the severity and duration of manic and depressive periods. Type 1 is the more severe form while type 2 is milder.

Can you recover from bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a chronic illness, but that doesn’t mean you can’t feel good and have a good life if you manage your lifestyle and treatment plan.

Is there a link between creativity and bipolar disorder?

Yes, a link between bipolar disorder and creativity has been suggested and there is research to support this link. However, not everyone with bipolar disorder is creative.

What can I do as a family member of someone with bipolar disorder?

The most important step is to encourage the person to seek professional help. You can also offer emotional support, but remember that you are not a substitute for qualified care. There are also family groups and training courses that can be helpful. It is also good to be aware of heredity and take care of yourself if you are the child of someone with bipolar disorder.

Can you force someone to go to therapy?

No, you can’t force someone to undergo therapeutic treatment. A person needs to understand that they need to work on themselves, but if the situation is acute with manic episodes or severe depression, they can be given compulsory treatment in order not to harm themselves. This decision is made by a doctor in an inpatient setting.

Where can I go if I or someone I know has symptoms of bipolar disorder?

To get help, you should go to your health care centre to get a referral to a specialist psychiatrist. It is possible to get help. If you have acute symptoms, call emergency services on 000 or Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 (24 hour service).


Written by melissa

Melissa is a Certified Kinesiologist who focusses on a client-centred, holistic and integrative approach to health and wellness. She has extensive experience in managing stress, anxiety, fears, phobias and trauma in her clients. Melissa uses visual and auditory feedback to directly access and solve the cause of psychological stressors in the body so that optimal well-being and balance is achieved.