Bipolar Disorder

Posted: Jul 05 2021

Bipolar disorder affects around 1 in 50 Australians each year, and it often develops for the first time when people are teenagers, or in the early years of adulthood. People with bipolar disorder will experience extreme moods, from elation and euphoria, to depressive episodes where they feel low, hopeless and extremely sad. The length and severity of these episodes may vary, and their moods may not match the events that are going on around them.


Bipolar disorder is generally diagnosed in two types. Bipolar I is characterised by extreme, long-lasting highs (mania) as well as depressive episodes and periods of psychosis. Bipolar II is characterised by less extreme highs that only last a few hours or days, as well as depressive episodes, and periods of normal mood.

What causes bipolar disorder?

The causes of bipolar are not fully understood, but experts believe a combination of physical, environmental and social factors may play a role. For example, genetics is a key factor for 4 out of 5 people with bipolar disorder. Chemical imbalances in the body may also play a part, and in some people there may be certain circumstances or experiences which trigger the disorder.

Signs and symptoms

During a manic phase, someone with bipolar disorder may:

  • feel high, extremely happy or irritable
  • have an inflated self-esteem
  • have increased energy, activity and creativity
  • have a reduced need for sleep
  • have an increase in task-focused behaviours (such as staying up all night to get things done)
  • be very easily distracted, and race through their thoughts, often talking over others
  • show impulsive or risky behaviours with spending, business or sexual activity
  • have unrealistic plans, delusions or hallucinations.

During a depressive phase, symptoms may include:

  • low mood
  • lack of motivation
  • a loss of interest in usual leisure activities or hobbies
  • changes in sleep patterns
  • difficulty concentrating
  • withdrawing from social contact and activities
  • feelings of worthlessness or guilt, which may include suicidal thoughts.

If you think you may be experiencing bipolar disorder, Black Dog Institute’s online bipolar disorder assessment test might give you some insight.

When should I seek support from a professional?

Everyone feels the ups and downs of life. Perhaps you are stressed, going through an emotional time, or having strong feelings in a relationship. But, if you are noticing intense changes in your moods, which are disrupting your day-to-day life, then it could be a sign that there is something else going on.

If you are concerned about extreme mood changes in yourself or someone you know, it's encouraged to speak with your GP or mental health professional. Bipolar disorder is often diagnosed after a discussion about your symptoms, a thorough physical examination and mental health assessment.

If you think someone is at immediate risk of self-harm or hurting others, call 000.

Treatment options

Once diagnosed, the disorder can be treated effectively with medication, psychological therapy and in some cases, lifestyle changes.

If left untreated bipolar disorder can lead to more severe mood changes and greater mental health problems. However, with the right treatment bipolar disorder can be managed so you can enjoy a productive and fulfilling life.

Online resources and support

Lifeline AustraliaCall 13 11 14 or visit Lifeline Australia
anytime you need support, 24 hours a day.

Black Dog Institute.

Try the Black Dog Institute’s online bipolar disorder assessment test.
SANE Australia.Find out more about bipolar disorder at SANE Australia.

Reviewed by Sarah Davies, registered psychologist.

Back to Information and resources

Posted: Jul 05 2021


The information contained here is of a general nature and does not take into account your personal medical situation. The information is not a substitute for independent professional medical advice and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or used for therapeutic purposes. Should you require specific medical information, please seek advice from your healthcare practitioner. Health Partners does not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information provided. While we have prepared the information carefully, we can’t guarantee that it is accurate, complete or up-to-date. And while we may mention goods or services provided by others, we aren’t specifically endorsing them and can’t accept responsibility for them.

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