Oncologist Dr. Belinda Yeoh and a patient


Understanding bipolar disorder

Did you know that an estimated one in 50 adult Australians experience bipolar?

Bipolar disorder is a chronic mental health condition that causes significant changes in mood and energy. It's estimated that as many as one in 50 adult Australians experience bipolar disorder, and it can affect men and women equally.

Here, Dr. Leeanne Fisher, clinical director of our Child and Youth Mental Health Service, answers some questions about this condition.


What is like living with bipolar disorder?

People living with bipolar disorder can have depressive episodes, which may include low mood, feelings of hopelessness, extreme sadness and a general lack of interest and pleasure in things.

They can also have manic or hypomanic episodes, which result in extremely high mood and activity, or agitation, racing thoughts, little need for sleep and rapid speech.

These changes in mood can last a week or more, and can affect the person's thoughts and behaviour.

Can bipolar be treated?

Bipolar disorder needs long-term management, which may include medication and psychological therapies. If left unmanaged, it can have a significant impact on how an individual functions in their everyday life.

Without treatment and intervention, it can impact a person's ability to cope at work, home, school or socially. 

How do you know if someone has bipolar?

Some early warning signs might include: not sleeping; being agitated or irritable; being energised with ideas, plans or motivations for schemes; an inability to concentrate, sometimes combined with rapid thoughts and speech; binges of alcohol or drugs; spending more money than usual; and arguments with family and friends. 

Depressive symptoms may include: excessive sleeping; increased anxiety and feelings of worthlessness; procrastinating and putting off responsibilities; bursting into tears for no apparent reason; and thoughts of suicide. If you recognise some of these changes in behaviour, it's important to seek assistance from a mental health professional.

How can someone with bipolar get help?

Getting help early is important. Bipolar disorder doesn't go away by itself and requires long-term management.

It's important to see a general practitioner to discuss any concerns, and they'll provide a referral to a mental health professional if required. Many people with bipolar disorder find stability and live successful and productive lives with the right medication and lifestyle management.