Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that is characterised by extreme mood swings between severe depression and elation, verging on euphoria, or mania, and the condition was once-called "manic-depression".
Many people who have bipolar disorder experience relative stability between the manic and depressive episodes, which can each last anywhere from a few days to a few months.
During the ups and downs, some people may have delusions or hallucinations. Sometimes, people go through what is called “hypomania”, where the “up” is not as high as a manic episode. This can be seen as quite a positive experience, as the person can be very creative and focused. Left without treatment, however, hypomania can also be devastating.
The exact cause of the condition is unknown, but research indicates a genetic predisposition. Onset usually occurs in the late teens or early 20s and it is estimated that it affects one in 50 Australians.
There are a number of conditions across the bipolar disorder spectrum, ranging from Bipolar Disorder I to cyclothymia - where the hypomanic phases are less severe - and so-called "subsyndromal" conditions.
About one third of people who suffer from bipolar disorder have work or relationship difficulties due to the condition. If you suspect that you are suffering from bipolar disorder it is important to get treatment as soon as possible.