Understanding bipolar disorder

Bipolar is often a misunderstood condition. However, our search volume analysis shows that lots of us are curious to find out more about it. With so much information online, it can be hard to know what to believe – so that’s where our experts come in.

Dr Pablo Vandenabeele is the Clinical Director for Mental Health at Bupa UK. He is passionate about dispelling harmful myths associated with mental health conditions like bipolar:

“It’s promising that more of us want to learn about bipolar symptoms, but it’s important the information we find is trustworthy to avoid spreading harmful misconceptions.

“We’ve explored worldwide online searches with some of the biggest annual increases to share the truth about bipolar.”

Twice as many searches

Our data shows searches for ‘bipolar disorder meaning’ have doubled. Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that affects your mood and behaviour. It's broken down into types and subtypes.1 It’s likely to bring mood episodes that swing from high to low. This varies from mania to depression.2 Some people may experience psychotic symptoms during their episodes.3 Others may have periods where they feel well in between them.2

There are two main types of bipolar:

  • Bipolar disorder I
  • Bipolar disorder II

Twice as many searches

Some people with bipolar experience delusions, such as paranoia during manic episodes. For the person going through it, these delusions can feel real. As such, any suspicious thoughts they have can escalate.

For example:

  • some might be quicker to see greater meaning in coincidences
  • some might feel like someone is watching or spying on them

Three times more searches

Searches for ‘bipolar quiz test’ have tripled in the past year. If you’re concerned that you or someone you know may have bipolar, you need to speak to a health professional. There is no online test that can give you a definitive or accurate answer.

Bipolar can be a complex condition to diagnose. It needs the experience of a health professional to ensure that all factors are taken into consideration, on an individual basis. This is to make the best decisions when it comes to treatment.

Twice as many searches

A bipolar manic phase is a period where you feel emotionally very high. Hypomania is a milder version of mania that lasts for days rather than weeks. Mania and hypomania symptoms can vary.

For example, you may take risks you wouldn’t usually, or have more energy than usual. Read more about mania symptoms on our bipolar disorder health information page.

Twice as many searches

Some people with bipolar may find it difficult to remember what happened during a manic episode. This can be referred to as a ‘bipolar blackout’.

These episodes can become an issue if the person committed to more responsibilities when they were on a high. They can be especially problematic if they aren't doable when their mood feels more stable.

Twice as many searches

When a person is diagnosed, they might be diagnosed with a specific type of bipolar disorder. One type of bipolar is bipolar with mixed features. It can also be called a 'mixed state' or 'mixed episodes'.

It is when a person feels high and low at the same time. This may feel like being overactive but depressed at the same time. Additionally, the person may experience one mood very quickly after the other.

Experiencing a mixed state can feel particularly overwhelming to cope with, and it can be hard for others to know how best to support you. If you feel that your mood is becoming difficult to predict, it’s important to reach out to a health professional for support.

Twice as many searches

Supporting a family member with bipolar can be difficult, especially when their moods are unpredictable. It’s important to be open and talk to your loved one when they’re feeling well.

Together, you can figure out what triggers an episode and ways to manage it. You can also make plans to help things feel more stable during their manic episodes, e.g. helping them keep a regular sleeping and eating routine.

Coping with bipolar can be draining, so remembering to take care of your own wellbeing is incredibly important to keep you well. Don’t be afraid to seek support yourself if you’re struggling with your own feelings. Consider speaking to a health professional or joining a bipolar support group.

11 times more searches

People searching for ‘bipolar with seasonal pattern’ has grown vastly in the past year. For some people who live with bipolar disorder the seasons can affect the severity of their symptoms.

This is more common during autumn and winter. These darker seasons can make days more difficult, as sunlight can have a powerful impact on helping keep us in a better mood and sleep better.

The change in seasons can be more difficult for someone with bipolar. For example, reduced daylight might trigger a depressive episode.

Common questions about bipolar disorder

Twice as many searches

Genetics is believed to play a role in whether a person develops bipolar. This is because it often runs in families.

However, there hasn’t been any one gene identified that directly causes bipolar. It’s thought that a combination of genetic and environmental factors leads to a person developing the condition.

Twice as many searches

Bipolar does not make a person manipulative. Some with bipolar may have manipulative traits, but this isn't a symptom of the condition.

Some people with bipolar may experience short-term psychosis during mood episodes. Psychosis can sometimes be confused with other personality disorders. This can make a person more likely to manipulate others.

Confusing symptoms of bipolar with unrelated personality disorders can be harmful for those with bipolar. It can be especially damaging when the person doesn’t have a personality disorder.

Why are more of us interested in bipolar?

Dr Vandenabeele weighs in:

“We’re gradually getting better at talking about all aspects of our mental health, and it’s great to see that bipolar is no exception. It can be helpful when celebrities with bipolar are candid about their diagnosis and symptoms, as it can encourage others to seek help if they’re feeling a similar way.

“However, our research shows many of us still inaccurately associate bipolar with other conditions.

“Online searches for bipolar are frequently paired with other conditions, like schizophrenia and autism. Though some symptoms for these conditions may be similar to bipolar, it’s important to remember they’re separate mental health concerns and need different treatment to be managed properly.”

Speak to a health professional if you think you're experiencing bipolar symptoms. To see if anything suggests mania or depression, they’ll discuss:

  • your moods
  • your medical history
  • symptoms

You'll receive a treatment referral if there's evidence to indicate bipolar disorder. You'll be treated by either a psychiatrist or specialist mental health service.

Bipolar isn’t curable. After a diagnosis it is managed with the help of a health professional. Treatment may involve:

  • possible combinations of medication for bipolar
  • talking therapies
  • self-help measures

Together with a health professional, you can develop an individual treatment plan.

Saying or doing harmful, upsetting and embarrassing things is common during a mood episode.

Those with bipolar disorder may blame others, make little sense, or do things completely out of character. This can be difficult to watch but staying calm and as non-judgemental as possible can help.

When your loved one’s episode has ended and they’re feeling well, it can be beneficial to reflect openly on their episode together. Though this might feel daunting, talking is crucial to help them feel supported and accepted. It also allows you to share how their actions made you feel, in a healthy environment.

Talking together can also help you to put together an action plan when you spot manic signs in your loved one that happen before a mood episode and check in with them. This can help you to spot patterns and triggers, helping you to prepare, keep calm and support your loved one.

Coping with bipolar can be hard, whether you’re the one with a diagnosis or supporting someone with one. If you’re struggling, or just want to talk to others sharing similar experiences to yours, make use of specialised bipolar support groups. Mind has information on a range of services, both face-to-face and online.

Learn more about mental health

Support when you need it most

1 Mind, 2022.

2 Bupa, 2020.

3 Mind, 2022.

Based on internal analysis of Google Keyword Planner volumes, November 2021 - October 2022.

Any onward referrals for consultations, tests or treatment are subject to the benefits and exclusions of your cover. For example, if your cover excludes conditions you had before your cover started, we may ask for further information from your GP. Please check your guide and certificate for further details or contact us to check your eligibility.

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