What is bipoplar disorder?

You may have heard of the terms bipolar or manic depression at some stage, but what exactly do they mean?

Bipolar disorder, previously known as manic depression, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. One in fifty adult Australians will experience the disorder in a year.

Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about bipolar disorder and people diagnosed with it can find themselves being misjudged and stigmatised.

Whether you or a loved one live with bipolar disorder, the key to managing it is to understand it better.


Here are some common bipolar myths and facts to help you live a healthy and productive life

Bipolar myth: There is only one type of bipolar disorder.

Bipolar fact: There are four main types of bipolar disorder.

  1. Bipolar disorder type I – at least one episode of mania (abnormally elevated mood or energy levels) and major depressive episodes (low mood, hopelessness, extreme sadness).
  2. Bipolar disorder type II – at least one hypomanic and major depressive episode, but no manic episodes.
  3. Cyclothymic disorder – brief periods of hypomanic and depressive symptoms.
  4. Other forms of bipolar disorder – including substance/medication-induced; bipolar disorder due to another medical condition; and other specified or unspecified bipolar or related disorder.


Bipolar Myth: Bipolar disorder is just like having a typical mood swing.

Bipolar fact: Bipolar disorder does cause changes to a person’s mood, but it is not like the normal ups and downs. The mood changes as a result of bipolar disorder are severe and long-lasting. It’s more than being in a good or bad mood; a person can experience severe depression or mania that often requires hospitalisation. These severe moods can last days or weeks and can start to affect a person’s daily life.


Bipolar Myth: Mania is fun and makes you more productive.

Bipolar fact: When someone is experiencing mania they may go for days without sleep, feel overexcited, and have lots of energy. But during this time, they may also feel edgy, restless, not in control of their actions and start to take unnecessary risks. They may say or do outrageous things or even believing they have special powers. Losing control of your actions can be very frightening for some people.


Bipolar Myth: Bipolar disorder and schizophrenia is the same thing.

Bipolar fact: Bipolar disorder and schizophrenia can share some symptoms, but they are two different mental health disorders. Bipolar disorder causes extreme mood swings with at least one episode of mania or hypomania. Schizophrenia includes delusions and hallucinations. The defining symptoms of a person who has schizophrenia may also include thinking that impacts how they speak and communicate, and moving in an abnormal manner.


Bipolar myth: People with bipolar disorder can’t work or lead normal lives.

Bipolar fact: With effective treatment, people with bipolar disorder can lead healthy and productive lives. Treatment helps to reduce the occurrence and severity of manic and depressive episodes and may include a combination of medication and psychological therapies.


Need help? You can find support services in northern Queensland or complete a self-administered K10 test for depression and anxiety. You can also join the online social and mental health forum to talk with like-minded people.