Bipolar means two poles, or extremes, and a young person with bipolar disorder is likely to have extreme ups and downs.

They might experience varying extremes of up periods (known as mania), and down periods (depression).

Youth Mental Health BipolarEveryone has ups and downs, but bipolar disorder is where someone has extreme mood swings (or ‘mood episodes’) widely out of proportion, or totally unrelated, to what’s happening in their life.

Does it affect their life?

These mood swings can affect young people’s thoughts, feelings, physical health, emotional health, behaviour, and day-to-day functioning.

This can be extremely disruptive and can be distressing to relationships with family and friends.

Four types of mood/episodes bipolar can cause:

  • mania
  • hypomania
  • depression
  • mixed mood.


A manic episode is an unusually and constantly elevated or bad-tempered mood, lasting at least one week.

During times of mania, a young person might experience:

  • An elevated or euphoric mood – this can include being full of energy and being happy, and is often described as being on a high or “on top of the world”
  • Changes in activity levels – there might be changes in sleeping and eating patterns. A decreased need for sleep is common in a manic episode.
  • Faster thinking and speaking patterns – thoughts can be quicker than usual, which might lead to speaking faster and jumping from subject to subject
  • A lack of inhibitions – finding it more difficult to see what the consequences of actions might be
  • Unrealistic plans and beliefs – having unrealistic beliefs about their talents e.g. believing that they are a king, queen, or a film star
  • Irritability – more likely to be angry or annoyed with others, particularly if they seem to reject their plans or ideas
  • Risk-taking behaviour – taking unnecessary and unsafe risks.


Hypomania is the name given to a milder form of mania that lasts at least four days. A person doesn’t experience full manic episodes, but milder episodes. It includes symptoms such as increased thought speed and processes, elevated mood, and irritability.


A young person experiencing depression can feel a range of emotions including feeling sad or down, a lack of energy and feeling hopeless or helpless.

Mixed episode

A mixed episode means experiencing both manic and major depressive symptoms nearly every day for at least one week. Moods can vary with the time of the day.

Causes of bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder can be associated with a combination of factors. Risk factors include genetic factors (a family history of bipolar disorder) and environmental factors (such as stressful and traumatic events).

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