Get information and advice - Sibling FAQs - What does bipolar disorder mean?
My stepbrother has been told he has bipolar disorder – what does this mean?
Bipolar disorder is a mental illness which affects 1 in 100 people. It is characterised by extreme high and low moods in the person experiencing the illness.
Symptoms of bipolar disorder
Bipolar disorder causes dramatic mood swings – from extremely "high" and/or irritable (mania) to sad and hopeless (depression), and then back again, usually with periods of normal mood in between. These periods of normal mood can be long lasting. Severe changes in energy and behaviour go along with these changes in mood. Moods often become less extreme as the individual grows older.
Mania - signs and symptoms of mania include:
- increased energy, activity, and restlessness
- excessively "high", overly good, euphoric mood
- extreme irritability
- racing thoughts and talking very fast, jumping from one idea to another
- distractibility, can't concentrate well
- little sleep needed
- unrealistic beliefs in your own abilities and powers
- poor judgement
- spending sprees
- a lasting period of behaviour that is different from usual
- increased sexual drive
- misuse of drugs & stimulants, particularly cocaine, alcohol, and sleeping medications
- provocative, intrusive, or aggressive behaviour
- denial that anything is wrong
Depression - signs and symptoms include:
- lasting sad, anxious, or empty mood
- feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
- feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
- loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed, including sex
- decreased energy, a feeling of fatigue or of being "slowed down"
- difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
- restlessness or irritability
- sleeping too much, or can't sleep
- change in appetite and/or unintended weight loss or gain
- chronic pain or other persisting bodily symptoms that are not caused by physical illness or injury
- thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
A depressive episode is diagnosed if five of more of these symptoms last most of the day, nearly every day, for a period of two weeks or longer.
In some people, symptoms of mania and depression may occur at the same time in what is called a mixed bipolar state. Symptoms of a mixed state often include agitation, trouble sleeping, change in appetite, psychosis and suicidal thinking. A person may have a very sad, hopeless mood while at the same time feeling extremely energized.
For more information please read our Bipolar disorder factsheet
Need practical advice & info? We can help.
Contact our Advice team about mental health & related issues
0300 5000 927 Monday - Friday 9.30am - 4pm, not including bank holidays