Bipolar disorder is a common but often misunderstood mental health condition.

The misrepresentation of bipolar disorder and other psychiatric conditions in the media can lead to fear and stigma that make it difficult for people to understand what it is like to live with bipolar disorder.

This misrepresentation can also affect the quality of care that people with bipolar disorder receive. According to the 2021 Mood Disorder Survey from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), more than 5 in 6 adults feel that stigma is a major barrier to treatment for mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder.

To better understand the reality of bipolar disorder and help reduce stigma, explore the graphics below.

Intense episodes of mania and depression characterize bipolar disorder. The condition can also affect a person’s energy and activity levels, as well as their ability to concentrate.

Symptoms of mania

The symptoms of a manic episode may include:

  • feeling elated or excited
  • feeling jumpy or wired
  • feeling irritable or short-tempered
  • having racing thoughts and talking faster than usual
  • sleeping less than usual
  • feelings of grandeur
  • taking unusual risks or acting impulsively

Some people also have more mild episodes, which are known as hypomania.

Symptoms of depression

The symptoms of a depressive episode may include:

  • feeling very sad, hopeless, or lonely
  • isolating from others
  • difficulty concentrating and talking very slowly
  • having little energy
  • sleeping more than usual
  • eating too much or too little
  • lack of interest in or difficulty completing usual activities
  • suicidal thoughts

Mood swings in bipolar disorder are longer-lived than the media portrays them.

The changes in mood that occur with bipolar disorder are not the typical fluctuations that everyone experiences from time to time. They make it much harder for a person to function and fulfill everyday responsibilities, such as work, household chores, and taking care of themselves or others.

The three main types of bipolar disorder are:

  • bipolar 1 disorder
  • bipolar 2 disorder
  • cyclothymic disorder

Experts believe that various factors influence the development of bipolar disorder, including:

  • genetics
  • brain structure
  • stress or trauma

People with bipolar disorder typically receive a diagnosis during late adolescence or early adulthood. However, it is possible for the symptoms to appear in children.

Bipolar disorder sometimes first appears during pregnancy or shortly after childbirth.

People with bipolar disorder are more likely to experience certain health problems.

Physical activity can complement medication and therapy to help manage some of the symptoms of bipolar disorder, promote sleep, and boost heart and brain health. People with bipolar disorder may benefit from:

  • aerobic exercise, such as walking, jogging, swimming, or biking
  • weightlifting
  • yoga or Pilates

However, they should never use exercise to replace prescribed treatments.

Bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition, but it is treatable. A mental health professional may recommend medication, talk therapy, or a combination of the two.

Without treatment, bipolar disorder can get worse.

Bipolar disorder is a complex disease that affects many aspects of a person’s mental, emotional, and physical health.

Mood shifts are a hallmark feature of bipolar disorder. Although they can be extreme, they are often very different than the media’s portrayal.

A better understanding of bipolar disorder can help improve recognition and reduce stigma. Being able to talk openly and honestly about bipolar disorder symptoms is important to improve access to treatment.

With proper medical care, many people with bipolar disorder can reduce the impact of their disease and take control of their mental health.