What is Bipolar Disorder? Everything You Need to Know
The Mighty’s educational content combines the expertise of both the medical and patient community to help you and your loved ones on your health journeys. For the Bipolar Disorder Condition guide, we interviewed mental health experts, read the latest studies, and surveyed more than 500 people living with bipolar disorder and their caregivers.
Bipolar Disorder At a Glance:
- Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that involves alternating periods of mania or hypomania and depression.
- The average age where symptoms of bipolar disorder begin is 25.
- 4.4% of adults in the United States experience bipolar disorder in their lifetime.
- An estimated 82.9% of people with bipolar disorder live with serious impairment; they have been found to have the most impairment of those living with serious mood disorders.
Medically reviewed by Dr. Nicole Washington, DO, MPH
What Is Bipolar Disorder? | Common Bipolar Disorder Misconceptions | Living With Bipolar Disorder | How to Talk to Your Doctor About Bipolar Disorder | Management of Bipolar Disorder | How to Find a Care Team for Bipolar Disorder | How to Support Someone Living With Bipolar Disorder
What Is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression, is a mental health condition that affects approximately 5 million adults in the U.S. Bipolar disorder involves unusual changes in mood and energy. There are usually periods of time where your mood is lower (depression) and periods where your mood is abnormally elevated (mania). These shifts between depression and mania can impact your judgment, relationships, job performance, ability to sleep, get day-to-day tasks done, and concentrate. However, individuals living with bipolar disorder may also have extended periods of relative mood stability between episodes. With these diverse symptoms, one may naturally ask: “What is bipolar disorder?” It is a lifelong condition that requires careful management and understanding.
What Are Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?
Understanding “what is bipolar disorder” requires an in-depth look into the psychiatric field, since the impact of bipolar disorder on the lives of those who live with it is profound. People with bipolar disorder experience both depression and mania or hypomania – a less severe form of mania – and therefore can have a wide variety of symptoms. During periods of depression, people living with bipolar disorder can experience feelings of sadness, indifference, or hopelessness. Signs of bipolar disorder depressive episode can include:
- Not being interested in activities you once enjoyed
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Not being able to concentrate
- Sleeping too much or not enough
- Focusing on thoughts of death, suicide, or self-harm
- Feeling more fatigued than normal or having less energy
- Becoming angry more easily
- Significant changes in weight when you are not trying to gain or lose weight
Along with periods of depression where their mood is very “down,” people with bipolar disorder also experience times when their mood is very “up.” These times when people are feeling too “up” are called mania or hypomania. Hypomania involves symptoms that are similar to mania but are less severe. Mania can cause problems with work, school, finances, substance abuse, or personal relationships. It can even progress into psychosis, where people are disconnected from what’s really going on around them and are often unaware of their own actions. Psychosis is an emergency that requires immediate medical attention. A manic or hypomanic episode may include symptoms like:
- A more inflated sense of self-esteem than usual
- Not needing to sleep as much
- Being more talkative than usual
- Being more easily distracted
- Having thoughts that feel like they are racing or very fast
- Doing things that show poor judgment or a lack of inhibition like spending excessive amounts of money or drinking too much
- Increased irritability or anger
- Feeling too jumpy or wired
- Feeling invincible, stronger, or more powerful than usual
- Taking unnecessary risks
The core behind “what is bipolar disorder” entails a complex mental health condition characterized by rapid mood swings between periods of irritable depression and extreme mania. Recognizing these signs is crucial for early intervention and bipolar disorder treatment, leading to better outcomes for those living with the disease.
What Are the Different Types of Bipolar Disorder?
Although everyone with bipolar disorder experiences some form of depression or mania, there are different types of bipolar disorder. When discussing the effects of bipolar disorder, types such as Bipolar I, Bipolar II, and Cyclothymic disorder, can greatly. The type is typically determined by the severity levels and frequency of the mania and depressed episodes, making personalized treatment options crucial for each individual. How a person experiences mania depends on what type of bipolar disorder they have:
- Bipolar I disorder: People with bipolar I disorder typically experience manic episodes that are at least a week long or severe in nature, for example, an episode that severely impacts one’s ability to work or relationships, or an episode that requires immediate medical treatment. Generally, the person will have experienced a period of depression sometime before or after their manic episode. People living with bipolar I disorder can also have symptoms of depression and mania at the same time. These are called mixed episodes.
- Bipolar II disorder: People with bipolar II disorder usually experience a pattern of hypomanic episodes and depressive episodes. The mania experienced with this type of bipolar disorder is not as severe as in bipolar I disorder. However, this form of bipolar disorder is not considered to be less severe in general. The periods of depression can be prolonged and can significantly affect a person’s quality of life.
- Cyclothymic disorder: People with cyclothymic disorder experience periods of alternating depressive symptoms and hypomanic symptoms that last at least two years in adults. However, the depressive symptoms involved in this type of bipolar disorder aren’t as severe as the depression found in bipolar disorder I or II.
Comorbidities and Bipolar Disorder
It is common for people who live with bipolar disorder to also have other comorbid psychiatric disorders. A comorbid condition is a condition that you have at the same time as another one. It is estimated that half to two-thirds of people with bipolar disorder live with another psychiatric condition. For bipolar disorder, the most common comorbid conditions are anxiety disorders. Over a third of people with bipolar disorder also have a substance abuse disorder. Sometimes the alcohol or drug abuse starts before the onset of bipolar disorder and can lead to a person’s first manic or depressive episode. Other times, the impulsivity that comes with manic episodes can lead to excessive alcohol or drug consumption.
If you or a loved one struggle with substance abuse and are looking for resources, you can call the national hotline for substance abuse here.
You can also read more about bipolar disorder symptoms from fellow Mighties here:
- 5 Things I Lost Because of My Bipolar Disorder (and What I Didn’t)
- 20 Surprising Physical Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
- What Remains Hidden When You Have Mental Illness
Causes of Bipolar Disorder
A single cause for bipolar disorder hasn’t been identified. Currently, researchers believe that bipolar disorder is caused by a combination of genetics and a person’s experiences or environment. Some research suggests that bipolar disorder happens more often in people who have certain genes. It’s also been shown that people who have a parent or sibling with bipolar disorder are more likely to be diagnosed with it themselves.
Bipolar disorder may also be linked to changes in the brain. Some studies have shown that the brains of people with bipolar disorder are structurally different than those of people who don’t have it. Scientists aren’t exactly sure yet as to what causes this, but they are hopeful that further research into these changes will lead to new treatments that improve the lives of those living with bipolar disorder.
People who have endured traumatic or stressful events also appear more likely to develop bipolar disorder. For example, people who have bipolar disorder are about twice as likely as those without it to have been sexually or physically abused during their childhood. People with a history of abuse are also more likely to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder at an earlier age and have more severe symptoms.
There also seems to be a connection between stressful life events or chronic stress and the onset of mood disorders like bipolar disorder. Things like the loss of a job or the death of a loved one can cause someone with a predisposition to bipolar disorder so much stress that it pushes them into a manic or depressive mood episode. This means that people with risk factors for bipolar disorder, like having a parent or sibling who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, should be especially mindful of their mental health and any symptoms they may be having during times of increased stress.
For more information about bipolar disorder, you can check out these resources from nonprofits dedicated to the condition:
- International Society for Bipolar Disorders
- Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
- International Bipolar Foundation
Common Misconceptions About Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder is often misrepresented in the media and in society, showing individuals living with the condition as unreliable or “crazy.” A common misconception is that bipolar disorder is unmanageable, but there are many tools, techniques, and therapies that can be used to help prevent an episode.
Those living with the condition may struggle to navigate life and express their authentic self with bipolar disorder because of the associated stigmas and misconceptions. Bipolar disorder can be a challenging condition to manage, but it doesn’t automatically define a person as “dangerous” or “crazy.” To learn more about bipolar disorder misconceptions, we reached out to the Mighty community to learn about what they wish others knew about bipolar disorder.
Here’s what they had to say:
- “It doesn’t look like it does on TV. It isn’t always dramatic, productive, or creative as it is in the movies. I feel embarrassed and ashamed by things that seem out of my control. It feels like a personal failing instead of a medical condition.”
- “I hate that people are afraid of others with bipolar disorder. I don’t externalize my anger or mood swings, I internalize them.”
- “Even though I have stable periods and appear fine, I still struggle with day-to-day functioning.”
- “I wish others knew that I work very hard to control my illness and its symptoms. I don’t just accept it as ‘normal’ behavior and let it go at that. I really am trying. It feels like a hurricane is happening inside sometimes, and I don’t want to be this way.”
- “I rarely reveal that I have bipolar disorder except to my closest friends.”
- “It’s not as simple as highs and lows. The in-between[s] are ‘watchful waiting’ periods where you are constantly managing the condition, going for appointments, managing nutritional needs, getting bloodwork, etc. It’s a chronic, lifelong condition. It’s hard and affects everything from insurance to the ability to drive and some days even to shower.”
- “I’m trying my best even if it doesn’t look like I’m doing a lot. It’s ridiculously hard and exhausting just to be alive.”
- “It’s something I struggle with every single day. Even though I may not be having full-blown symptoms, it’s still constant. Sometimes I just need support and not judgment or questions. Sometimes I’m afraid to ask for what I need; I feel like a burden.”
- “I wish people understood how hard it is to get through the day-to-day and continue working. As a single mother, I often do not know how I will make it through my day because of the amount of distress I have in my mind from bipolar.”
- “I wish others knew that I’m more than my bipolar diagnosis.”
- “My needs, desires, and hopes are no different than those without mental illness. Often it is assumed we are unintelligent, a drain on society, or even possessed! It is only a part of who I am and doesn’t define me.”
- “It is an illness, and I can’t change it. It’s not my fault and I’m not faking it.”
- “I wish people would stop hoping it away or be ‘unconvinced’ because I ‘look and act so normal.’”
- “There is this whole perception that we are not reliable, that we’re not stable, that we will cause problems in the workplace, you know, all of that. And it’s so unfair, or that we’re not as intelligent or that we can’t lead.”
Bipolar disorder is a highly stigmatized and often misunderstood condition. If you live with bipolar disorder, we hope that the community comments above show that you’re not alone in this journey. If you are a loved one of someone living with the condition, we hope that the struggles people shared help shed some light on the stigma your loved one may experience.
You can also read stigma-busting stories about bipolar disorder here:
- What I Want to Tell My Husband About My Mania
- How I Stopped Thinking Bipolar Disorder Made Me ‘Pathetic’
- To the Person With Schizophrenia Who Feels Unlovable
Management of Bipolar Disorder
The goal of managing bipolar disorder is to reduce the symptoms of mania and depression that you are experiencing and to minimize the impact of bipolar disorder on your life. Your health care team will usually try to achieve this goal through a combination of medication and therapy. Your symptoms may seem overwhelming, but reduction or remission from the symptoms of bipolar disorder is possible. It’s important to remember that bipolar disorder treatment is a long-term commitment and often involves not only medication, but also lifestyle modifications, therapy, and a support network to effectively manage the condition.
Bipolar disorder is a lifelong illness, and though people can go into remission from their symptoms, episodes of mania and depression can recur. Even if your mood swings are in remission, it’s not uncommon to have lingering symptoms. A long-term management team of professionals who are knowledgeable about bipolar disorder is key to helping manage symptoms, minimizing bipolar disorder’s impact on your life, and helping you find a sense of balance with the condition. Your treatment team may include health care professionals like a psychiatrist, a social worker, or your primary care doctor.
Your health care team will come up with a treatment plan that may include medications, different types of therapies, and lifestyle changes.
Medications for Bipolar Disorder
It is not unusual for a combination of different medications to be used to treat bipolar disorder. The reason for this is that different medications are used to treat different aspects of the illness. For example, a mood stabilizer like lithium might be used to treat manic or mixed episodes. Another class of medications, called atypical antipsychotics, can also be used as mood stabilizers. This type of medication can be more effective in cases where a person is experiencing mixed episodes where they have symptoms of both mania and depression. But these mood-stabilizing medications might not be enough to treat the lows of the depression that comes with bipolar disorder. If that is the case with you, your health care team may decide, in some cases, to add an antidepressant medication to your treatment regimen. Generally, they will be cautious and start out with smaller doses of antidepressants because they can trigger manic episodes. That’s why antidepressants may not be the first choice of medications for people living with bipolar disorder. Finding the right balance between medications can be challenging, and communicating with your health team is key to finding the right balance for you.
Psychotherapy (Talk Therapy) for Bipolar Disorder
In order to alleviate symptoms of bipolar disorder, psychotherapy focuses on establishing routines, minimizing negative thoughts and behaviors, and educating you and your loved ones about the symptoms of bipolar disorder.
- Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (IPSRT) is a type of therapy that focuses on maintaining a consistent daily routine around the time you wake up, eat meals, and go to sleep. Having a consistent routine can help people with bipolar disorder manage their moods.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help identify negative or harmful thoughts and behaviors. Your therapist will then work with you to change these unhelpful patterns of thoughts and behaviors into healthy and beneficial ones. CBT can also be helpful for identifying the triggers of your mood episodes and for managing the stress that can cause these episodes.
- Psychoeducation, or education around bipolar disorder, can help you manage your condition. You’ll know the signs and symptoms to look for that signal the onset of a mood episode. This is the purpose of psychoeducation: to teach you about your bipolar disorder. A therapist can also educate your caregivers and loved ones so they can help you understand when your symptoms are worsening.
Among the varied bipolar disorder therapies, options like IPSRT, CBT, and psychoeducation are crucial, offering patients effective tools to better manage their condition.
Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) and Bipolar Disorder
Electroconvulsive therapy is a procedure in which electrical currents are passed through the brain. With modern ECT, you usually go through a series of procedures over a period of weeks while you are under anesthesia. It is believed that sending these electrical currents through the brain results in changes to the brain’s chemistry. ECT is used in patients with severe bipolar disorder who either don’t respond to medication or cannot take medication due to their individual circumstances.
Supplements and Bipolar Disorder
There is some research that suggests that certain supplements can help reduce symptoms of bipolar disorder. The most positive evidence was for Omega-3 fatty acids and chromium, but other supplements were investigated as well. However, all the impacts that supplements can have on people with bipolar disorder are not well-understood. Additionally, it’s known that some supplements can have very serious or harmful interactions with certain medications that are commonly prescribed for bipolar disorder. It’s very important to talk to your doctor before adding any supplements to your treatment plan.
Exercise and Bipolar Disorder
Regular physical activity has been shown to help alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression. Activities such as walking, swimming, yoga, and weightlifting have been shown to help you sleep better and benefit your heart and brain. In studies of people with bipolar disorder, brisk walking several days a week alleviated symptoms of depression and provided a lift in mood. It was also shown to improve their response to stress.
Mindfulness Practices and Bipolar Disorder
For some, cultivating a meditation practice is helpful for finding emotional balance before, during, and after a bipolar cycle. Experiencing emotional balance can be improved through a daily practice that includes intentional breathing, returning to the present moment as thoughts arrive, and learning how to “surf the waves” of feelings that arise, intensify, and subside while sitting or lying down.
The Benefits of Tracking Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
Keeping track of your moods, symptoms, medication regimen, exercise habits, and life events can help your health care team see patterns in how your bipolar disorder affects you. This can help them assess the effectiveness of your treatment plan and make adjustments to it. That’s why we made a printable, easy-to-use symptom tracker to help.
Hospitalization and Day Treatment Programs for Bipolar Disorder
Those living with bipolar disorder often experience significant fear and anxiety around hospitalization and treatment programs for the condition. This community pushback is primarily due to the stigmatization around the condition, with individuals fearing they will be “locked up,” or “too crazy” if they are admitted to one of these programs. Seeking help never makes you “weaker” or “too much.” If your health care provider recommends admittance to the hospital or a treatment program for your bipolar disorder, remember that they are doing so to help you stay safe and give you the support you need to get back to the things you love.
Do I Need Treatment for Bipolar Disorder?
If you’re reading this section on managing bipolar disorder and are feeling unsure about what to do next, know that you’re not alone. Many individuals express some hesitation in starting treatment right away for their bipolar disorder, and not everyone needs to be treated with medication for the condition. Finding a health care team that you trust is an important step in figuring out the best path for you.
It’s also OK to feel anxious or hesitant about trying medication for bipolar disorder. It’s often a journey of trial and error to find the best method for you. It’s also important to note that people often begin treatment with a goal in mind, whether that is to reduce suicidal ideation, help manage their anger or hypersexuality, or learn more about themselves in a more balanced state. Working with your health care team to identify your treatment goals will also help you stay motivated as you find what works best for you.
Dr. Nicole Washington, DO, MPH, wants you to know:
Being diagnosed with bipolar disorder does not make you “less” or is the “death sentence” the media and society portray it as. Many people are able to lead full lives while managing this condition. Engaging in treatment early and staying in treatment is the best thing that you can do to live your best with bipolar disorder.
You can also find other management resources here:
- Newly Diagnosed With Bipolar Disorder? Here Are 16 Pieces of Advice to Get You Started
- What Helps Me the Most in Striving for Stability With Bipolar
- 6 Tools for Managing ‘Bipolar Rage’
What Does Managed Bipolar Disorder Look Like?
So what does well-managed bipolar disorder actually look like? For some individuals, remission is possible; however, bipolar disorder will likely be a chronic condition and management will look different for everyone. Kevin Varner, MA, NCC, LCMHC says that the long-term goal of bipolar disorder management is often to achieve a feeling of balance in your life and emotions:
“[Taking medication and going to therapy] doesn’t guarantee that my episodes are going to go away forever. I’ll likely have another one. However, I have noticed that the duration and intensity of the cycles is less.”
For Kevin, finding balance goes beyond managing the highs and lows. He also strives to figure out what expressing his authentic self looks like when living with bipolar disorder.
“When I find balance, I finally feel utterly myself: ‘This is Kevin.’ Whenever I was experiencing an episode in the past, there was a sense of longing to discover more about who Kevin really was. Now I recognize that for much of my life I felt like there was something missing in myself, something that I was born without. But that was a lie – I just had no sense of who I consistently was. I had no balance, but now I know what balance feels like. It’s the true ‘me.’”
What balance looks like will be different for each person. It may take some time to also find what authentic happiness and sadness look like, and how to show up as yourself in a way that makes you feel authentically seen. If that feels daunting for you, here is some advice from Kevin:
“When I look back at authentic happiness, for me it’s the simple things: when I was alone and enjoying my own company or enjoying the company of someone else without having to make it bigger, faster, better, or stronger. Authentic sadness for me felt like I didn’t need to wallow in it. Most importantly, I realized that it’s OK to have an ordinary day. It’s OK to find beauty in the small things, and that it’s OK to not believe in everything you feel.”
How to Talk to Others About Bipolar Disorder
Because bipolar disorder is stigmatized and often misunderstood, it can be difficult to feel comfortable opening up about your experience with the condition. Plus, everyone’s experiences with bipolar disorder are different, adding another layer of complexity to the conversation. We created this worksheet to help you break down and define your experience with bipolar disorder for those in your support system: friends, family, coworkers, or even health care professionals you’re meeting with for the first time. Here you can identify what a bipolar cycle looks like for you, how you’d like to receive support from others, and other aspects of life with bipolar disorder that people should know about.
Identifying and attributing emotions to specific events or physical symptoms can be especially tough when living with a mental illness. To help in those moments when you might need extra support, we created this Mighty feelings wheel with common physical sensations and emotions. It’s a great visual tool for sharing with loved ones or someone on your treatment team. As a bonus, coloring in the sections that best match what you’re feeling can be a welcome distraction, too!
Talking to a Health Care Provider About Bipolar Disorder
The idea of finding a health care provider to help manage bipolar disorder can feel overwhelming at first, and you may be asking yourself these questions about the process:
- Who is the best person to help me with bipolar disorder?
- Will they understand what I’m going through?
- There are so many different types of mental health professionals — which one is best for bipolar disorder?
- How do I find a therapist?
- How do I know a therapist is a good fit for me?
If you’re in need of a little encouragement during this process, Kevin Varner, MA, NCC, LPC wants you to know:
It takes courage to be vulnerable, to ask for help, to do something for the first time, and that’s okay. All of you is welcome here..
It takes courage to be vulnerable, to ask for help, to do something for the first time, and that’s okay. All of you is welcome here..
How to Find a Health Care Provider for Bipolar Disorder:
Each person on your health team for bipolar disorder has an important role to play in the management of the condition. What the team looks like will look different for everyone. Typically, you will start out with a general practitioner, who often acts as a “gatekeeper” to other individuals who specialize in bipolar disorder or mental illness management. However, depending on the type of health insurance you have, you may be able to make appointments directly with specialists who can help you manage your bipolar disorder symptoms.
It’s important to remember that every health professional on your team will help you manage bipolar disorder in different ways. For example, a psychiatrist is an M.D. or D.O. who can prescribe medications for mental health conditions. Medications may play an important role in trauma recovery, and having a good relationship with a psychiatrist can be helpful in finding the best medication to fit your needs.
Another important person to help with bipolar disorder symptoms is a therapist. Therapists can help someone process trauma through non-medication methods. Every therapist has a different way of working and may use structured therapy techniques shown to help bipolar disorder, like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (IPSRL).
Searching for a therapist can feel like trying to find the perfect pair of jeans. It is completely normal to “shop around” for a therapist who fits your personality and needs the best. A good therapist won’t get frustrated or mad if they aren’t chosen after the first meeting, or even after several meetings. The most important part of finding a therapist is finding one you can trust. It can be difficult at times with bipolar disorder to recognize certain behaviors or cycles. Having a therapist you trust will help you identify what you’re experiencing.
Remember that any therapist you work with should have a license from your state in good standing. Every state has a database where you can double-check a therapist’s license. Know that therapists who specialize in bipolar disorder are not always private practice therapists — public and community centers for mental health also have therapists on staff. You may also contact your local NAMI chapter to attend a meeting, and you may find additional support and local therapist recommendations there.
If a therapist isn’t located nearby, you still have several options. You can consider telehealth with a therapist anywhere in your state. While telehealth may feel less personal at first, it can be more accessible than a traditional office location. Telehealth visits allow a person to control their environment and can make it a more comfortable place to have a therapy session.
Starting the search for a therapist can be done online, and contacting an office to set up an appointment doesn’t always require a phone call: Some offices can make appointments through online forms and even email. You can also ask your general practitioner to make you a referral to someone they’d recommend and if you have insurance, the company will have a list of therapists you can contact who accept your insurance. A loved one or personal advocate may also help you in your search for a therapist or psychiatrist.
To begin the search online, you can search for local therapists using the search functions on these websites:
It can be nerve-wracking to go to your first therapy or psychiatrist appointment — this is normal! That’s why we created a downloadable discussion guide to help you prepare for a visit with a health care professional about bipolar disorder. We hope this guide helps you get the most out of your appointments:
How to Support Someone Living With Bipolar Disorder
If you are living with bipolar disorder, know that there is a caregiver or support system out there that is willing and wanting to help you through our journey. For some people, there may be individuals who quickly come to mind, like a partner or parent, but finding someone to share this journey doesn’t always have to be a family member. It can be someone from your local NAMI chapter, for example, or someone from your community, church, or school.
To support teams: No matter what your relationship is to the person living with bipolar disorder, we’re so happy you’re here – there are many ways you can help someone with the condition. Let’s get started!
First, recognize that everyone living with bipolar disorder will experience it differently. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for bipolar disorder. It’s also not your job to “fix” the condition. The first, and probably most important, thing you can do to offer support is to listen, really listen. If they want to talk, sit down with them and hear what they have to say without judgment. If they don’t want to talk, notice what’s going on around them and see if there’s any easy way to help that they’re open to receiving.
People living with bipolar disorder may be hesitant to start treatment or speak with a doctor about what they’re experiencing. Remember that there is a lot of stigma surrounding bipolar disorder – it can be scary to receive this diagnosis because of it. Offer some gentle encouragement, and if the individual is open to it, help them find a specialist who can help. Sometimes just doing research and making the appointment can be a barrier to getting professional support because the process of getting there can be overwhelming.
But remember: It’s important to help the individual living with bipolar disorder maintain as much autonomy as possible. Ali Porter says:
“Someone who’s in the throes of their illness may not be able to find a specialist to help on their own. That’s where you can come in, but don’t take over like don’t let them lose control. It’s very important for a person with bipolar disorder to maintain control and autonomy. You can help guide them – they may be struggling to an extent where they can’t assemble what they need on their own.”
However, there are medical emergencies related to bipolar disorder. Please call 911 or contact a medical professional if a person is a danger to themselves or others because of suicidal thoughts, actions, or – in some cases – psychosis.
Sometimes it can be difficult for people living with bipolar disorder to recognize behavioral patterns. Have an open conversation with the individual you’re supporting – would they like to know from you if they behave a certain way? How would they like you to share it with them or others, such as their health care provider? What is the best way for you to check in with each other? It is incredibly important to respect the boundaries set by the individual – make sure that those boundaries are clear as you talk with them about their condition.
In a survey of more than 500 Mighty members living with bipolar disorder, 75% of respondents said that one of their main day-to-day challenges was the impact bipolar disorder has on their personal relationships. 64% of respondents also shared that stigma and a lack of public understanding was a major challenge for them. 21% of respondents said that the stigma around bipolar disorder can be challenging to navigate, preventing them from disclosing their diagnosis or expressing their authentic selves with others. As an advocate, caregiver, friend, family member, or supporter, that’s where you have an important role to play in the wellbeing of someone living with bipolar disorder. Learn about bipolar disorder, listen without judgment, and have open conversations – your support can make all the difference.
How to Get Help in a Crisis
If you find yourself feeling so overwhelmed and hopeless that you don’t want to live anymore or you’re making plans to die, reach out for help immediately. You are valuable and important. You’re not alone. Call a loved one or your therapist or reach out to a crisis hotline:
If you are feeling suicidal, there is hope.
- You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255
- You can reach the Crisis Text Line 24/7 by texting “START” to 741-741
- You can call The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ+ crisis intervention and suicide prevention hotline, 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386
If you are hard of hearing, you can chat with a Lifeline counselor 24/7 by clicking the Chat button on this page, or you can contact the Lifeline via TTY by dialing 800-799-4889.
To speak to a crisis counselor in Spanish, call 1-888-628-9454.
Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.
You can read the following stories from people who’ve been there:
- If You Feel Like You’re ‘Losing’ to Your Mental Illness, This Is Your Reason to Stay
- For When Your Only Thought Is Suicide
- The Difference Between Wanting to Die and Wanting the Pain to Stop
- Dear Suicidal You
And for additional messages of hope, click here.
You are not alone.
This bipolar disorder condition guide was created with support from many Mighty contributors, medical experts, and therapists. You can learn more about the individuals interviewed for the creation of this resource here:
- Kriz Mendoza, Mighty staff member
- Kevin Varner, MA, NCC, LCMHC
- Nicole Washington, DO, MPH.
- Maya Lorde, Mighty Super Contributor
And to the more than 500 Mighties who took our bipolar disorder survey, thank you!