Bipolar disorder

Shifting between incredible excitement and deep sadness is tough for people with bipolar disorder (manic depression) and for their families. Learn how to cope with this mental health problem with the right treatment.

What is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder, which is also called bipolar affective disorder or manic depression, usually consists of episodes of mania (feelings of excitement) alternating with episodes of depression. We all have our ups and downs in life, but for someone with bipolar disorder, the highs and lows are excessive. These severe mood changes have a significant impact on the person’s family, emotional, and social life and finances.

People with bipolar disorder don’t always swing between depression and euphoria. They may have a stable mood for some time between episodes of extreme mood changes.

The first episode usually appears between the ages of 15 and 25. A similar number of men and women develop this disease. During the depressive phase, up to 15% of people can have suicidal thoughts. During the manic phase, they can become very agitated and start projects that are impossible to complete.

What causes bipolar disorder?

The cause of bipolar disorder is not yet known. One theory is that a problem with the brain chemicals involved in the neuronal transmission of information prevents neurons from performing their normal role. 

Like other mental illnesses, bipolar disorder seems to have a genetic component. In fact, in about 20% to 25% of bipolar disorder cases, one parent also has the illness. Factors such as intense stress, drugs or sleep deprivation can also trigger an episode.

Bipolar disorder symptoms

Symptoms during the manic phase

During the manic phase, people with bipolar disorder can feel like they’re on a high for a period of at least one week, during which they may also experience the following symptoms:

  • Irritable mood or feeling of euphoria.
  • Disproportionate sense of self-esteem.
  • Boundless energy and a decreased need for sleep.
  • Tendency to speak non-stop and incoherently.
  • Increased sociability.
  • Impulsive and risky behaviour (major purchases, sexual disorders).
  • Impaired judgement.
  • Ideas of grandeur that make the person think they can start huge projects that are often unrealistic.

Of course, all of these behaviour changes have an impact on the person's life. Symptoms of mania will vary from person to person, and their intensity will also vary. For some people, symptoms will be very intense and will require hospitalization. For others, the symptoms will be less intense and of shorter duration. This type of episode is known as “hypomania”: in contrast to mania, the person can still function in society, and sometimes more so than in their normal state.

Depressive phase symptoms

Depressive episodes are often longer than episodes of mania and last at least two weeks. The following symptoms may occur: 

  • sadness and depressed mood
  • fatigue
  • sense of guilt or guilty conscience
  • negative self-image and a tendency to severely judge oneself
  • low concentration
  • disrupted appetite and sleep
  • negative thoughts
  • a feeling that life has no value, or a feeling of hopelessness
  • suicidal thoughts

Bipolar disorder treatment

Although bipolar disorder can't be cured, the symptoms can be controlled with psychotherapy, a healthy lifestyle, and the right medication.


One goal of psychotherapy is to help you better understand the disease, recognize the triggers of manic episodes, and develop good reactions to stress. Therapy can also help you adopt a healthy lifestyle that will help prevent symptoms.


Bipolar disorder is a chronic disease. People with this disorder generally have to take medication for the rest of their lives. Mood stabilizers are required to treat the illness. As the name indicates, these drugs stabilize mood over the long term. Antidepressants or antipsychotics may also be prescribed, depending on symptoms. Some antipsychotics are used alone. When people with bipolar disorder take the proper medication at the right dose, they can thrive and pursue their life goals.

Never stop your medication without talking to a health care professional. If you have questions about your treatment or if you experience side effects, don’t hesitate to talk to your pharmacist, who is there to help.


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