Frequently asked questions include general information about bipolar disorder and its diagnosis, risk factors, treatments, and impact on families. Click on the tabs below to access the information, or browse the drop-down menu to the left.

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Bipolar disorder

What is bipolar disorder and how is it diagnosed?

Bipolar disorders are a group of disorders characterised by episodes of mania or hypomania and depression. In between episodes, mild symptoms of mania and/or depression may, or may not, be present. Bipolar disorders characterised in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, version 5) include bipolar 1 disorder, bipolar 2 disorder, and cyclothymic disorder. A major depressive episode is a period of at least two weeks in which a person has at least five of the following symptoms (including one of the first two): intense sadness or despair; feelings of helplessness, hopelessness or worthlessness; loss of interest in…

Bipolar disorder

Which risk factors are associated with bipolar disorder?

Like many disorders, bipolar disorder can arise from both genetic and environmental influences. Several risk factors have been identified as increasing the risk for bipolar disorder, these include: Having a parent with bipolar disorder. Exposure to meningitis or tuberculosis in childhood. Exposure to maternal smoking in utero. Having older parents at birth (over 34 years). Having a gestational age of less than 32 weeks, with a lower risk between 32 and 36 weeks. Exposure to childhood adversities, including loss of a close relative, bullying, physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect. The nature, timing, severity, and duration of exposure…


Which treatments are most effective?

Combination medications including mood stabilisers, antidepressants, or antipsychotics are the main treatment options for bipolar disorder. Patients may need to try several types or combinations of medications before finding a treatment regime that suits them best. Response to treatment depends on a person’s dominant polarity (mania or depression), their propensity to switch between mood states, and the severity of their symptoms. A clinician, usually a psychiatrist, is the best person to guide you through these treatment options. Treatments other than pharmaceutical have also been investigated for bipolar disorder. Potentially effective treatments include; light therapy, transcranial magnetic stimulation, cognitive behavioural therapy,…

Will family members be affected?

Most caregivers are family members, and they report burden during the patient’s depressive and manic episodes. Patient behaviours of most concern to caregivers include impulsive spending, over activity, lack of sleep, over talkativeness, lack of insight, and odd, aggressive or unpredictable behaviours. Education about bipolar disorder, including symptoms, diagnosis and treatments can help alleviate caregiver burden. April 2019

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