bipolar disorder: do you know the signs?

just over two per cent of canadians will experience bipolar disorder in their lifetime, according to the canadian psychological association.

do i have bipolar disorder?
bipolar disorder, which affects men and women equally, usually starts in late adolescence but can begin in childhood. getty

bipolar disorder , formerly known as manic depression, is a medical condition that causes a person’s mood to fluctuate between high periods of great happiness and low intervals of sadness or despair. the biochemical condition, which is the result of an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain, typically results in three states, according to the centre for addiction and mental health : a high state (known as mania — or hypomania in milder forms), a low state (depression) and a well state (during which patients may feel few to no symptoms).

although everyone goes through ups and downs in their lives, people with bipolar disorder generally deal with more extreme fluctuations between the two. when depressed, people with this condition may feel that all hope is lost and lose interest in activities they usually enjoy. during extreme manic periods, patients can experience an intense feeling of euphoria that is capable of convincing them they are famous, have special knowledge or are invincible. bouts of mania can be as dangerous as those of depression because they can lead to risky behaviour based on false beliefs. according to the public health agency of canada , this can include engaging in unwise activities, including spending sprees, excessive alcohol and drug use and risky sexual activity.



although bipolar disorder is usually a lifelong condition, proper treatment, including medication and therapy, can manage symptoms and help patients lead fulfilling lives. stress by itself does not cause bipolar disorder but episodes of mania or depression can be triggered by stressful events in a person’s life.

symptoms of mania and depression

signs of bipolar disorder vary depending on the phase of the condition patients are in. symptoms of mania can include:
  • feeling energized, invincible or inappropriately excited
  • increased activity, including movement and talking
  • increased irritability or excessive anger
  • increased sexual thoughts and activity, sometimes leading to unsafe behaviour
  • not feeling the need for sleep
  • disconnected or racing thoughts
  • loss of self-control
  • inappropriate spending
  • hallucinations and/or delusions
symptoms of depression can include:
  • feeling sadness or loss
  • feeling guilty or worthless
  • extreme irritability
  • changes in appetite or weight
  • loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
  • changes in sleeping patterns, including insomnia
  • reduced ability to think clearly or make sound decisions
  • difficulty concentrating or short-term memory loss
  • persistent fatigue or lack of motivation
  • anxiety or restlessness
  • muscle and joint pain
  • lack of interest in sex
  • withdrawal from friends or family
  • thoughts of suicide or self-harm



people with bipolar disorder can occasionally experience symptoms of mania and depression at the same time, a state called a mixed episode. these episodes can be hard to diagnose and are difficult for those who experience them.

diagnosing bipolar disorder

as there is no simple test that can diagnose this disorder, doctors will typically conduct a physical exam and ask about any symptoms a patient may be experiencing. based on this exam, a patient may be referred to a psychiatrist who is better equipped to discuss any thoughts, feelings or behaviours that may be of concern. they may rely on the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders when making a diagnosis and patients may be asked to keep a record of their mood or sleep patterns during this period, up and until an appropriate treatment has been found.

treating bipolar disorder

a trained psychiatrist is usually required to address bipolar disorder, according to the mayo clinic , with the focus placed on helping patients manage their symptoms and resume normal lives. helping them do this can include:

medication.  drugs, such as mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications, may be used to immediately balance a patient’s mood. this medication will likely be a lifelong requirement because skipping treatment during periods when they may seem unnecessary only runs the risk of relapse. it can take months to find the appropriate drug and dosing for a particular person, so patience is required.



day treatment programs.  to provide support and counselling. cognitive behaviour therapy and interpersonal therapy have both proven effective.

substance abuse treatment.  as bipolar disorder makes people more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs, treating any underlying addictions if they are present is a vital part of the process.

hospitalization : may be required for more severe forms of the disorder, particularly if a patient is behaving dangerously. a hospital can provide a safe setting until symptoms are stabilized.

preventing bipolar disorder

bipolar disorder can’t be prevented, according to myhealth alberta , because experts still aren’t sure exactly what causes it. the condition is believed to contain a genetic component, however, because a person’s risk of diagnosis increases if they have a family member who has also been diagnosed.

how many canadians have bipolar disorder?

just over two per cent of canadians will experience bipolar disorder at some point in their lives, according to the canadian psychological association . the condition, which affects men and women equally, usually starts in late adolescence but can begin in childhood. bipolar disorder is considered a recurrent condition, meaning one episode is likely to be followed by others at some point in the future.



support and resources for bipolar disorder

the canadian mental health association is a nationwide organization with over 330 community locations to help people experiencing bipolar disorder or any other mental health condition. if you are in a state of distress, or know someone who is, talk suicide canada also has resources and open phone lines available to help.
dave yasvinski is a toronto-based writer.
thank you for your support. if you liked this story, please send it to a friend. every share counts.


postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. we ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. we have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. visit our community guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.