Bipolar Disorder

What is Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that affects a person’s mood and energy levels.
Everyone has highs and lows, but a person with bipolar have extreme ups and downs in mood. These mood changes can be distressing for them and other people. They can affect how they live their life, and even put them in risky situations. Between these mood swings, however, they feel and act normally.
People with bipolar disorder have times when their highs are extreme and they have too much energy. These highs are called ‘mania’ when severe, or ‘hypomania’ when less severe. Most people with bipolar disorder also have times when they feel extremely down. They can feel hopeless, helpless or empty. This is called bipolar depression.
In the past, bipolar disorder was called ‘manic depression’.
Bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition, but with the right treatment the symptoms can be well controlled.

People with bipolar I disorder have mania, and most also have depression.
People with bipolar II disorder have hypomania and depression.

There is no single cause of bipolar disorder. It can be caused by different things in different people. We know that bipolar disorder changes how the brain works, and this causes symptoms of mental illness.

Some things that make it more likely that someone will develop bipolar disorder are:

    • having particular genes
    • stress while a child or teenager (e.g. trauma or illness)
    • using drugs

Different people have these in different combinations. For example, people can have:

  • mostly mania/hypomania
  • mostly depression
  • depression followed by mania/hypomania
  • features of both at the same time (this is called 'mixed states')

Between these mood swings, however, they feel and act normally.
People with bipolar disorder usually have depression for much more of the time than they have mania or hypomania.
Bipolar is different for everyone, but a common pattern is that someone will have at least one episode of bipolar symptoms every few years, with each episode lasting for a few months.
Some people have 'rapid cycling' bipolar, which means they have at least 4 episodes per year.

Bipolar disorder is diagnosed based on a person’s symptoms and behaviour.
The diagnosis is usually made by a psychiatrist. Some GPs and clinical psychologists can also diagnose bipolar disorder.
To make a diagnosis, a doctor needs to spend time with the person so they can understand them and their symptoms. The doctor may not make a diagnosis right away. Sometimes they might want to see how the person goes over time, before making a diagnosis.
A medical check-up and tests are needed to make sure the symptoms are not caused by other medical conditions.

Over time, a person with bipolar disorder can get to know their symptoms better, and learn how to stay well.
While there is no cure for 
bipolar disorder, it can be treated effectively with medication and psychological treatment and the symptoms can be well controlled. This means many people with bipolar disorder can live full lives. Many people with bipolar disorder have responsible jobs and successful careers.

  • medications for mania, hypomania and depression
  • medication to stop symptoms returning
  • psychological treatments (talking therapies)


You will need a referral from your GP to access this service.


You will need a mental healthcare plan (MHCP) from your GP to access this service for Medicare rebates, unless paying privately.

The information on this website is NOT a substitute for proper diagnosis, treatment or the provision of advice by an appropriate health professional. Please speak to your doctor for advice about your situation. HelloDoc is not liable for any consequences arising from relying on this information.


Don’t delay getting the mental healthcare attention you need, get a referral from your GP and book an appointment.