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Living Well with Bipolar Disorder

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With proper treatment, along with support and self-care, people with bipolar disorder can live healthy, fulfilling lives.

  • What is Bipolar Disorder?

    Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness that causes unusual shifts in mood, ranging from extreme highs (mania) to lows (depression).

  • A person who has bipolar disorder also experiences changes in their energy, thinking, behavior, and sleep. During bipolar mood swings, it is difficult to carry out day-to-day tasks, work, go to school, and maintain relationships.

    When a person has a manic episode, they feel overly excited, productive, and even invincible. These drastic behavior changes usually cause concern among friends and family. On the other hand, when a person has a depressive episode, they feel extremely sad, hopeless, and tired. They may avoid friends, family, and participating in their usual activities.

  • Living with Bipolar Disorder Video

    Video: Living With Bipolar Disorder

    Learn about Phil's experience with bipolar disorder.

  • Bipolar disorder affects millions of adults in the U.S. Most people are diagnosed with bipolar disorder in their teens or twenties. However, it can occur at any age. People are at a higher risk if they have a family history of bipolar disorder, experienced a traumatic event, and/or misused drugs or alcohol.

    What are the Types of Bipolar Disorder?

    Each type of bipolar disorder includes periods of highs and lows. The major difference between forms of the disorder is how extreme the mood swings are and how long they last. In all types, there are periods between manic or depressive episodes when symptoms lessen or people feel stable.

    • Bipolar I Disorder: chronic mood swings that go from very high manic states to severe depressive episodes.
    • Bipolar II Disorder: mood swings that go from high to low, but the highs are less extreme and are called hypomanic states. The depressive episodes may be just as severe as those in Bipolar I disorder.
    • Cyclothymic Disorder: chronic mood swings (both highs and lows) that are not as long, severe, or frequent as those experienced in bipolar I or II disorder.

    What are the Signs and Symptoms?

    Everyone’s experience with bipolar disorder is different, and the signs and symptoms vary.

  • A manic episode may include these symptoms:

    • Intense feelings of euphoria, excitement, or happiness
    • Appearing abnormally jumpy or wired
    • Having excessive energy
    • Insomnia or restlessness (a decreased need for sleep)
    • Speaking fast or being unusually talkative
    • Having racing or jumbled thoughts
    • Distractibility
    • Inflated self-esteem
    • Doing impulsive, uncharacteristic, or risky things like having unsafe sex or spending a lot of money
    • Increased agitation and irritability
  • A depressive episode may include these symptoms:

    • Feeling down, sad, worried, worthless, anxious, guilty, empty, or hopeless
    • Lack of interest, or no interest, in activities
    • Feeling tired, low energy
    • Forgetfulness
    • Indecisiveness
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Changes in sleep, either sleeping too much or too little
    • Changes in appetite, either eating too much or too little
    • Thoughts of death and/or suicide
  • A severe manic or depressive episode may trigger psychotic symptoms such as delusions (false beliefs) or hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that others do not see or hear).

    Tips for Living with Bipolar Disorder

    Bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition that doesn’t go away on its own. While it can feel overwhelming and isolating at first, an early, accurate diagnosis is the first step toward getting better. Proper treatment, along with support and self-care, helps people with bipolar disorder live healthy, fulfilling lives.

    Treatment Options

    Bipolar disorder is treatable with a combination of medication and therapy.

    • Medications. Mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, and antidepressants can help manage mood swings and other symptoms. It is important to understand the benefits and risks of medications. People may need to try different medications before determining which works best for them. They should never stop taking a medication without their doctor’s guidance.
    • “Talk therapy” (psychotherapy). Therapy helps people accept their disorder, recognize the warning signs of a manic or depressive episode, develop coping skills for handling stress, and stick with a medication schedule. Therapy also improves communication and relationships among families.
    • Long-term, continuous treatment. While there may be times between episodes where a person feels fine, a long-term, continuous treatment plan can reduce the severity and frequency of mood swings.

    What You Can Do: Daily Habits Make a Difference

    These healthy lifestyle habits, along with professional treatment, can help manage the symptoms of bipolar disorder:

    • Stick to a consistent routine. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day. Being sleep deprived can put people at risk for manic or depressive episodes. Sleeping more than usual may be a sign of a depressive episode. Limit caffeine, which can disrupt sleep.
    • Eat well and get regular exercise. A healthy diet will give your body proper nutrition, and exercise may help improve your mood.
    • Always take your medicine as prescribed. You should do this even when your mood is stable.
    • Check with your treating doctor. Always check before taking over-the-counter supplements or any medications prescribed by another doctor.
    • Keep a mood journal. By tracking how you feel day-to-day, you can notice triggers, monitor how your treatment is working, and spot changes in your eating or sleeping patterns. Writing down this information can be especially helpful to your doctor if your medication needs to be adjusted.
    • Keep your primary care physician updated. They are an important part of the long-term management of bipolar disorder, even if you also see a psychiatrist.
    • Avoid using alcohol and illegal drugs.
    • Minimize stress. Try activities like meditation or tai chi. Make changes to simplify your life when possible.
    • Turn to a support network. Know which family and friends are there to help during a crisis or a tough time. Educate your loved ones about bipolar disorder so they can best support you. Ask them to help you recognize the warning signs of manic or depressive episodes.

Treatment Works. SAMHSA Can Help You Find It.

Effective treatments for bipolar disorder are available in your area. The earlier that you begin treatment, the greater likelihood of a better outcome. For confidential and anonymous help finding a specialty program near you, visit SAMHSA’s Early Serious Mental Illness Treatment Locator.

If you, or someone you know, need help to stop using substances – whether the problem is methamphetamine, alcohol or another drug – call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or TTY: 1-800-487-4889, or text your zip code to 435748 (HELP4U), or use the SAMHSA’s Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator to get help.

Last Updated

Last Updated: 09/27/2022