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Bipolar Disorder

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a serious brain illness. It is also called manic-depressive illness. People with bipolar disorder go through unusual mood changes. Sometimes they feel very happy and “up” and are much more active than usual. This is called mania. And sometimes people with bipolar disorder feel very sad and “down” and are much less active. This is called depression. Bipolar disorder can also cause changes in energy and behavior.

Bipolar disorder is not the same as the normal ups and downs everyone goes through. Bipolar symptoms are more powerful than that. They can damage relationships and make it hard to go to school or keep a job. They can also be dangerous. Some people with bipolar disorder try to hurt themselves or attempt suicide.

Anyone can develop bipolar disorder. It often starts in a person’s late teen or early adult years. But children and adults can have bipolar disorder too. The illness usually lasts a lifetime.

What Causes Bipolar Disorder? 

Several factors may contribute to bipolar disorder including genes, because the illness runs in families and abnormal brain structure and brain function. The causes of bipolar disorder aren’t always clear. Scientists are studying it and research may help doctors predict whether a person will get bipolar disorder. One day, it may also help doctors prevent the illness in some people.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

A person may be having an episode of bipolar disorder if he or she has a number of manic or depressive symptoms for most of the day, nearly every day, for at least one or two weeks. Sometimes symptoms are so severe that the person cannot function normally at work, school, or home.

Symptoms of mania or a manic episode include:

  • A long period of feeling “high” or an overly happy or outgoing mood
  • Extremely irritable mood, agitation, feeling “jumpy” or “wired”
  • Talking very fast, jumping from one idea to another, having racing thoughts
  • Being easily distracted and restless
  • Increasing goal-directed activities, such as taking on new projects
  • Having trouble relaxing or sleeping
  • Having an unrealistic belief in one’s abilities
  • Behaving impulsively and taking part in a lot of pleasurable high-risk behaviors, such as spending sprees, impulsive sex, and impulsive business investments
Symptoms of depression or a depressive episode include:
  • A long period of feeling worried or empty
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, including sex
  • Feeling tired or “slowed down”
  • Having problems concentrating, remembering and making decisions
  • Being restless or irritable
  • Changing eating, sleeping, or other habits
  • Thinking of death or suicide, or attempting suicide


There is no cure for bipolar disorder. But proper treatment helps most people with bipolar disorder gain better control of their mood swings and related symptoms. This is also true for people with the most severe forms of the illness.

Because bipolar disorder is a lifelong illness, people with the disorder need long-term treatment to keep control of bipolar symptoms. Treatment for bipolar disorder includes medication and psychotherapy. (sourced from

If your life is being impacted by bipolar disorder, EAP can help you. You can call toll-free 24 hours a day, 1.800.322.5327 or email at

Helpful Resources:

National Institute of Mental Health-Bipolar in Children and Teens
Medline Plus
Mayo Clinic
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
Accommodation Ideas for Bipolar Disorder - Job Accommodation Network (JAN)

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