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What is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterized by extreme mood swings involving periods of mania followed by periods of depression, with each episode ranging from days to weeks.

Symptoms include:

  • suicidal ideation
  • mania and hypomania
  • depression
  • feelings of despair
  • sleeping too little or too much

What causes bipolar disorder?

As with most mental illnesses, bipolar disorder is causes by a combination of biology and environment.

Twin studies offer strong evidence that genes are up to 70% responsible for the development of bipolar disorder.

Adverse life experiences, trauma and differences in brain structure have all been correlated with the development of bipolar disorder.

Types of bipolar disorder 

Bipolar disorder is generally categorized into two sub-types, Bipolar I and Bipolar II.

With Bipolar I, an individual experiences mania, hypomania and depression. With Bipolar II, someone may experience periods of depression and hypomania, but not mania.

Difference between mania and hypomania

Mania and hypomania are similar in that both present as a state of elevated mood, happiness and impulsivity, irritability and unusually high energy. Hypomania usually lasts shorter than mania and the symptoms are less severe.

Severe mania may require hospitalization and it can cause hallucinations, which does not occur with hypomania.


Bipolar disorder often requires a combination of methods for the treatment to be effective.

Anti-depressants may be used to combat depression, and antipsychotics to prevent mania. Figuring out the right combination of medication can take some time and varies on a case-by-case basis.

Medication alone is not enough to treat and manage the illness, and it works best when paired with psychotherapy.

It’s important to know that most people can live fulfilling lives with the right treatment.

Other facts about Bipolar disorder

  • 50% of people develop symptoms before the age of 21
  • Some people experience “mixed” episodes of both depression and mania that can be detrimental to their wellbeing
  • Bipolar is often misdiagnosed as depression
  • Bipolar disorder is extremely stigmatized and individuals suffering from bipolar are often misrepresented in popular media
  • There are more than 3 million cases of bipolar disorder in the US every year.



Bipolar Hotline: 866-9033787

NAMI Helpline: 1-800-950-6264

International Bipolar Foundation: 1-800-273-8255


Bipolar UK Hotline: 0333-323-3880

Black Dog Institute Australia: +61 2 9382 4530

Visit to find a suicide hotline in your country.

If you or somebody you know are in danger, please call 911 or your local emergency number.

This page is also part of the Roamers Therapy Glossary; a collection of mental-health related definitions that are written by our therapists.

While our offices are currently located at the South Loop neighborhood of Downtown Chicago, Illinois, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more. You can visit our contact page to access detailed information on our office location.