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Bipolar disorder - twelve things you need to know

Symptoms, triggers and what to do about it.

  1. It affects between five and 10 out of every 100 people and symptoms usually show up between the ages of 15 and 25.
  2. Formerly known as manic depression, bipolar disorder affects moods, causing depression and manic behaviour. You can have "episodes" of depression and mania, and be well in between them.
  3. There's no known cause. Sometimes there is a history of it in the family, but not always.
  4. An episode of mania or depression may be triggered by a variety of factors. These include medication, recreational drug use, sleep deprivation, stress and childbirth.
  5. Stress may also trigger bipolar disorder in people who are genetically predisposed to the condition, but haven't shown any symptoms previously.
  6. There are several types of bipolar disorder. People with bipolar type I have had at least one fully manic episode with periods of major depression. Those with bipolar type II have never been through full-on mania, but have less intense highs, known as hypomania. There is also a mild type of bipolar disorder called cyclothymia.
  7. Symptoms during the manic phase of bipolar I may last anywhere from a few days to several months, and may include being agitated and having more energy than usual, having little need for sleep, seeming elated, inflated self image and behaving recklessly - such as going on spending sprees.
  8. In the depressed phase, symptoms include fatigue, loss of appetite, feelings of worthlessness, persistent sadness, having no interest in activities that were once enjoyable and difficulty concentrating. Suicidal thoughts can also be a sign.
  9. There's no known cure for bipolar disorder but its severity and frequency of episodes can be controlled, reduced or sometimes prevented with medication and psychological therapies.
  10. Changes to your lifestyle may help improve some symptoms - for example, cutting out alcohol and recreational drugs, eating a healthy diet that includes omega-3 fatty acids (oily fish are a good source) and trying to get a good night's sleep every night.
  11. Exercising regularly may help ease some of the depressive symptoms of bipolar disorder. A US study found people who walked or jogged for 30 minutes a day three times a week for 16 weeks noticed the same improvements in their mood as people on medication. However, exercise should never replace medication you've been prescribed.
  12. Well-known people with bipolar disorder include writers Patricia Cornwell, Ernest Hemingway and Sidney Sheldon, comedians Stephen Fry, Ruby Wax and Bill oddie, actors Carrie Fisher, Jean-Claude van Damme and Demi Lovato, and singers Macy Gray, ozzy osbourne, Nina Simone and Sinéad o'Connor. Closer to home, Tall Ferns star Penina Davidson shares her ongoing battle with bipolar disorder.