COVID-19: Up-to-date information on patient visitation, FAQs, donations and more. Learn More


What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, causes extreme changes in a person’s mood, energy, and activity level. These changes are much different from normal everyday “ups and downs.” They are exaggerated and severe. Individuals with bipolar disorder experience extreme “highs” and “lows.” Bipolar disorder is treatable, and individuals diagnosed with the disorder can lead full and productive lives with proper treatment.

The Facts

About 5.7 million adults are diagnosed as having bipolar disorder in any given year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Bipolar disorder often develops in a person’s late teens or early adult years. However, some individuals experience their first symptoms during childhood.

At least half of all cases of bipolar disorder start before age 25.

What to Watch For

Individuals with bipolar disorder experience both mood and behavioral changes during the manic and depressive stages of their illness.

For example, during the high or manic stages of the illness, people may experience:

  • Increased energy and restlessness
  • Feeling overly happy
  • Extreme irritability
  • Racing thoughts
  • Jumping from one idea to another
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Little need for sleep
  • Unrealistic beliefs in one’s abilities and powers
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Provocative, intrusive, or aggressive behavior
  • Denial that anything is wrong

In the down or depressive stage of the illness, people experience:  

  • Sad, anxious or empty mood
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Decreased energy or fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Changes in appetite

In severe situations, people with bipolar disorder may lose touch with reality and hear, see or feel things that do not actually exist. Sensing something as real when it is not is called a hallucination. People with severe bipolar disorder may also have delusions, which means they believe things to be true when they are not, such as they can fly or have x-ray vision.

Treatment Options

If left untreated, bipolar disorder can create problems in people’s relationships, jobs or school. While there is no cure for bipolar disorder, proper treatment helps most people with bipolar disorder manage their mood swings and symptoms. Bipolar disorder is a lifelong and reoccurring illness and requires long-term treatment. An effective treatment plan includes medication and psychotherapy to prevent relapse and reduce symptoms. The most common medications used in the treatment of bipolar disorder include:

  • Mood stabilizing medications
  • Atypical antipsychotic medications
  • Antidepressants

It is often recommended that individuals with bipolar disorder chart their daily mood, treatments, sleep patterns and other life events. This can help doctors adjust medications accordingly, as well as track and treat the disorder more effectively. How you can help If you know someone who is exhibiting signs of bipolar disorder, encourage him or her to get help. Once diagnosed, encourage your loved one to continue treatment.

Other ways you can help include:

  • Get educated about bipolar disorder so you can understand what your loved one is experiencing
  • Be understanding about situations that may trigger bipolar symptoms
  • Invite your loved one to participate in positive distractions, such as walks and other activities
  • Be aware of mood changes and report any signs of suicidal thoughts to your loved one’s health care provider

We’re here to help. If you or someone you love is experiencing symptoms of depression, please contact Peace Hospital for an assessment and assistance with treatment options. Call 502.451.3333 or 859.313.3515.

UofL Health - Peace Hospital
2020 Newburg Rd.
Louisville, KY 40205

Assessment and Referral Center: 502-451-3333