Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is a mood disorder where people experience extreme mood swings from very high moods (mania) and very low moods (depression). It is one of the most common mental illnesses. Women and men are affected equally, and symptoms usually develop in late adolescence or early adulthood.

Symptoms of mania include elation, speaking fast, hallucinations and increased appetite for food and sex. Depression is characterised by loss of sleep and appetite, pessimism, hopelessness, reduced sex drive, difficulty concentrating and suicidal thoughts. Symptoms of mania can be followed by symptoms of depression in an almost regular cycle over a period of anything from days to months.

The exact cause is unknown, though it is thought to be determined by genes and to result from a problem with the brain systems that control our moods. Episodes can be triggered by stressful experiences.

Though sometimes hard to diagnose, bipolar can be effectively treated with medications and therapies. Combining these treatments with an understanding of their condition and how to avoid severe episodes means that most people with bipolar recover to lead independent and productive lives.