If you are having any symptoms or have any questions, please call 811 to speak with a registered nurse 24 hours a day.
Get emergency care if you or a loved one has serious thoughts of suicide or harming others
What is bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that causes extreme mood swings between happy and sad. Other names are manic depression or manic-depressive illness. People of all ages and genders can have it.
There are different kinds of bipolar disorder. They vary based on your symptoms and how often and sudden you have mood swings, or episodes.
Most people with mood swings don’t have bipolar disorder. However, intense mood swings are the main symptom of the disorder. At times, you may feel very happy, full of energy, and able to do anything. This can make you excited and unable to rest. This is called mania. At other times, you may feel very sad and alone. This can be painful and make you not want to do anything. This is called depression. People who have bipolar disorder alternate between mania and depression. It’s even possible to have symptoms of both at the same time. Your mood swings may be frequent and short, or spread out and last longer.
Other signs of mania include:
- Feeling powerful and important.
- Feeling excited or wired.
- Feeling irritated or sensitive.
- Having trouble focusing.
- Not sleeping well or at all.
- Being more active than usual.
- Spending a lot of money.
- Abusing alcohol and drugs.
- Doing risky or reckless things, including sexual acts.
- Thinking and talking so fast that other people can’t follow your thoughts.
Other signs of depression include the following:
- No interest or pleasure in things you used to enjoy, including sex
- Feeling sad or numb
- Crying easily or for no reason
- Feeling slowed down
- Feeling tired all of the time
- Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
- Losing or gaining weight
- Having trouble focusing, remembering, or making decisions
- Having headaches, backaches or digestive problems
- Having trouble sleeping, or wanting to sleep all of the time
- Thoughts about death and suicide
CAUSES & RISK FACTORS
What causes bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder may be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Genetics may be a factor. You have a greater chance of having bipolar disorder if it runs in your family.
Talk to a healthcare provider if you think you have bipolar disorder. They can do a physical exam and an assessment. Usually, bipolar disorder is first diagnosed in a person when they are a young adult.
People who have bipolar disorder seek care when they’re depressed more often than when they’re manic. This can make it hard to diagnose the condition correctly. Be prepared to share all of your symptoms, health, and family history with the healthcare provider. You may consider taking a family member or loved one to your appointment. A correct diagnosis gives you the best chance at getting helpful treatment.
How is bipolar disorder treated?
Some people who have bipolar disorder don’t want to get treatment. Some don’t think they need treatment. Some think they can get better on their own. Often, they don’t realize how much the disorder affects their lives and the lives of the people around them. However, don’t be embarrassed to go to a healthcare provider for bipolar disorder. A healthcare provider can help you manage your symptoms and balance your emotions.
You and your healthcare provider will work together to create a treatment plan. Medicines are an important part of that plan. Some are used to stop the mood swings. Mood stabilizers can even out the highs and lows in your mood. Antidepressant medicine can help reduce the symptoms of depression. It’s important to tell your healthcare provider if you’re taking any over-the-counter medicines. They can tell you if they will affect your antidepressants. Your healthcare provider may add other medicines, too, based on your symptoms.
Note the medicines may not work right away. It may take a few weeks before you notice a difference in your moods. Continue to take your medicines per your healthcare provider’s instructions. It’s important to be consistent in order to get the best outcome.
Counseling can help you with stress, family concerns and relationship problems. It’s important to get counseling if you have bipolar disorder.
Living with bipolar disorder
If you have bipolar disorder, it’s likely you will always have some degree of it. Treatment can help reduce your symptoms, but other things help, too. They include:
- Research and learn about bipolar disorder. Ask your healthcare provider for resources. Involve your family and tell them about the condition.
- Stick to a regular routine. Go to bed and wake up at about the same time each day. Eat healthy meals. Exercise at regular times.
- Get outside. Outdoor activities are essential to maintain a stable mood.
- Take your medicine every day. Don’t stop taking it, even if you start to feel better. It may take time for your medicine and therapy to have an effect on your life. Try to be patient and stay focused on your goals.
- Ask your healthcare provider if you can drink caffeine or alcohol with your medicine.
- Learn the early warning signs of your illness. Tell your healthcare provider when you notice changes in your mood, thoughts, or behavior.
- Join a support group. You and your family can share information and experiences with the support group. Hearing from others in similar situations can help.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
The Nova Scotia Mental Health Crisis Telephone Line
1-888-429-8167 (toll free)
The Island Helpline (Prince Edward Island)
The Canadian Mental Health Association