Mental Health

What Is Bipolar Disorder? Symptoms & Causes

Over the next few week we will talk about Bipolar Disorder. This week we concentrate on what it is, the causes and it’s symptoms. Next week we discuss diagnosis treatment and in the final week we talk about what you can do to help yourself or a loved one. What Is Bipolar Disorder Symptoms & Causes

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder( manic depression) is a condition that causes your moods to swing from one extreme to another. People with bipolar disorder will have periods of depression -feeling very low and lethargic – and mania -feeling very high and overactive. Unlike mood swings these episodes can last for several week or longer. About 1 in 100 adults will be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which affects men and women equally. It often develops between the ages of 15 and 19 but it will rarely occur over the age of 40. Bipolar disorder affects are varied and sometimes people can have a few episodes in their lives and are stable in between, but other people have many episodes over the course of their lifetime.

What are the causes of bipolar disorder?

The cause of bipolar disorder is unknown. But it is believed that some things can trigger an episode such as extreme stress, overwhelming problems and life-changing events as well as genetic and chemical factors.

Chemical imbalance in the brain

Bipolar disorder is believed to be the result of chemical imbalances in the neurotransmitters -noradrenaline, serotonin and dopamine- controlling the brain’s functioning. Example: Evidence shows that episodes of mania may occur when levels of noradrenaline are too high, and episodes of depression may be the result of it being too low.


Evidence has shown that bipolar disorder may run in families so therefore it could be said that having a member of the family with bipolar increases the risk of developing it. But at present we know of no single gene that is responsible for bipolar disorder.

Other Triggers

A stressful circumstance or life altering event may also trigger bipolar disorder. These may include:

  • the breakdown of a relationship
  • physical, sexual or emotional abuse
  • the death of a close family member or loved one
  • physical illness
  • sleep disturbances
  • overwhelming problems in everyday life – such as problems with money, work or relationships

What are the symptoms of bipolar disorder?

As already stated each episodes of mania and depression often last for several weeks or months.


Symptoms may include:

  • feeling sad, hopeless or irritable most of the time
  • lacking energy
  • difficulty concentrating and remembering things
  • loss of interest in everyday activities
  • feelings of emptiness or worthlessness
  • feelings of guilt and despair
  • feeling pessimistic about everything
  • self-doubt
  • being delusional, having hallucinations and disturbed or illogical thinking
  • lack of appetite
  • difficulty sleeping
  • waking up early
  • suicidal thoughts


Symptoms may include:

  • feeling very happy, elated or overjoyed
  • talking very quickly
  • feeling full of energy
  • feeling self-important
  • feeling full of great new ideas and having important plans
  • being easily distracted
  • being easily irritated or agitated
  • being delusional, having hallucinations and disturbed or illogical thinking
  • not feeling like sleeping
  • not eating
  • doing things that often have disastrous consequences – such as spending large sums of money on expensive and sometimes unaffordable items
  • making decisions or saying things that are out of character and that others see as being risky or harmful

Patterns of depression and mania

Some people may have episodes of depression more regularly than episodes of mania, or vice versa. Between episodes of depression and mania, some people may have periods where they have a “normal” mood.

The patterns aren’t always the same and some people may experience:

  • rapid cycling – where a person with bipolar disorder repeatedly swings from a high to low phase quickly without having a “normal” period in between
  • mixed state – where a person with bipolar disorder experiences symptoms of depression and mania together; for example, overactivity with a depressed mood

If your mood swings last a long time but aren’t severe enough to be classed as bipolar disorder, you may be diagnosed with cyclothymia (a mild form of bipolar disorder).

Next week we will talk about diagnosis and treatment.

If you are concerned about anything discussed here or about a loved one please consult with your GP.

If you are living with someone who suffers from Bipolar Disorder or Other Mood disorders you need support too. We offer counselling to partners and family member affected. Call us on 0894373641 for an appointment in our Ferns or Wexford Town offices.

Further Information:

A 1 hour lecture by Dr Patrick Mckeon



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