Last updated:

November 4, 2022


 min read

What is Bipolar Disorder? Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder marked by emotional highs (mania) and lows (depression). Read on to learn about its causes, symptoms, and treatment options.

Reviewed by
Written by
Aadya Varma

Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression, is a mood disorder that causes recurrent changes in the person’s mood, energy, and ability to function. It causes extreme mood swings, including emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression). While the symptoms of bipolar disorder most often surface during young adulthood, they can also occur in children and adolescents.

What Causes Bipolar Disorder?

Like most other mood disorders, bipolar disorder is also caused by the interplay of multiple physiological, social and environmental factors, some of which are discussed below.

Chemical Imbalance 

Bipolar disorder, to some extent, results from chemical imbalances in the brain. The chemicals responsible for controlling the brain's functions are called neurotransmitters and include noradrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine. Out of these, norepinephrine and serotonin are closely linked to mood disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder.

Genetic Factors 

It is widely believed that bipolar disorder runs in families, i.e., relatives of someone diagnosed with bipolar or depression are more likely to have the disorder themselves. However, no single gene is responsible for bipolar disorder, and instead, various genetic and environmental factors act as triggers.

What are the Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?

The symptoms of bipolar disorder drastically vary according to the high and low phases the person experiences, as well as the “normal” bouts of behaviour the person displays in between manic and depressive phases.

  1. Manic Phase 

The manic phase of bipolar disorder may include:

  • Talking faster than usual 
  • Feeling overjoyed and extremely happy
  • Inflated sense of self-importance 
  • Getting distracted easily 
  • Trouble sleeping 
  • Impulsive behaviour, like excessive spending 
  1. Depressive Phase 

On the other hand, the depressive phase is characterised by:

  • Lacking the energy to perform basic tasks
  • Difficulty focusing on and remembering tasks 
  • Feelings of guilt, shame, and despair 
  • Losing interest in everyday activities 
  • Lack of appetite 
  • Recurrent suicidal thoughts 


Symptoms of bipolar disorder are often triggered by life stressor which can range from:

  • Loss of a loved one 
  • Leaving home for the first time
  • Relationship problems
  • Sudden unemployment
  • Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse 

Although these stressors do not cause bipolar disorder, they can act as catalysts. They can even trigger a relapse in the form of a depressive or manic episode.

Types of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar I Disorder

Bipolar I disorder is diagnosed when a person experiences a manic episode. Some people with bipolar I disorder might experience depressive or hypomanic episodes, and most people with bipolar I disorder also have periods of neutral mood. 

Bipolar II Disorder 

A diagnosis of bipolar II disorder requires the patient to have at least one major depressive episode and at least one hypomanic episode. Bipolar II disorder frequently surfaces with other mental illnesses such as anxiety or substance use disorder. While the manic episodes of bipolar I disorder can be extremely severe, individuals with bipolar II disorder can remain depressed for longer periods.

Cyclothymic Disorder 

Cyclothymic disorder is a milder form of bipolar disorder. It involves frequent mood swings with recurring symptoms of hypomania and depression. While people with cyclothymia experience emotional ups and downs, their symptoms are less severe than those with bipolar I or II disorder.

Treatment Options for Bipolar Disorder 

Listed below are the vital parts of an effective treatment plan for bipolar disorder:


Medications help people with bipolar disorder by balancing extreme mood swings. Skipping prescribed medicines can increase the risk of relapse or turn minor mood changes into full-blown mania or depression. 

Medicines for bipolar disorder are primarily of two types:

  • Mood stabilisers are used to prevent episodes of mania and depression and to be taken every day on a long-term basis
  • Other meds could be used to treat the more noticeable symptoms of depression and mania as and when they surface

Support Programs 

Day treatment programs, also known as support programs, offer the support and counselling one might need while undergoing medical treatment for bipolar disorder. These programs are crucial for the client to stay motivated to continue their treatment and medicine intake. 


Therapy can act as a beneficial supplementary treatment plan for people with bipolar disorder. Such plans usually includes cognitive behavioural therapy, which:

  • Addresses depressive symptoms occurring as part of depressive episodes
  • Combats feelings of guilt and other negative thoughts about manic episodes
  • Helps you deal with stressors 

Overall, this treatment plan can reduce distress and decrease manic or depressive episodes. It can also make people more aware of their emotions, physical sensations, and other common indicators of a manic episode.

Need help?

Bipolar disorder isn’t completely curable, but that doesn't mean people with bipolar disorder cannot lead a functional, happy life. The right treatment plan, clubbed with the support of family and friends, can help. You can consult a non-judgmental psychiatrist or therapist from Rocket Health to devise a plan that works for you!