What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is an affective disorder, which means it's an illness characterised by disturbance in mood. Everybody has changes in mood, but in people with bipolar disorder these changes are more extreme, and often unpredictable. Bipolar disorder used to be called manic depression because people experience periods of elevated mood (mania or hypomania) and usually period of depression as well. the term bipolar disorder actually covers a whole spectrum of mood disorders: some people who have it can become highly manic, and may not experience depression at all; for some people depression is the major problem, and the "highs" they experience are relatively mild. Anxiety and irritability are often a major part of the condition.

What causes Bipolar Disorder

The exact cause of bipolar isn't known, although there is a family tie (genetic inheritance) to bipolar. If someone in your family/whānau has bipolar, there is an increased chance of developing it. Researchers are still working out exact causes. In the meantime, we do know that stressful life events and other factors can trigger bipolar affective disorder in some people.

For example, things like money or relationship worries, substance abuse, certain medication, unemployment or lack of sleep can all start a period of illness. You will hear these factors called “triggers” and any of these triggers can set off a new period of the disorder.

Types of Bipolar Disorder

There are two types of bipolar disorder. They are called type 1 and type 2.

  • Bipolar type 1 disorder means you get bouts of mania and bouts of depression.
  • Bipolar type 2 disorder also means you get bouts of mania and bouts of depression. But the mania is milder. It is sometimes called hypomania. It’s slightly more common than type 1.

Treatment Options

Treatment of bipolar disorder can take many different forms: medication, talking therapies, complementary therapies, education sessions, workshops and sometimes respite care in the community is useful. Usually a combination of these is the best solution if you have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.


In treating bipolar, medicines are most often used for making your mood more stable (mood stabilisers) and for helping with depression (anti-depressants).

If you are prescribed medication, you are entitled to know the names of the medicines; what symptoms they are supposed to treat; how long it will be before they take effect; how long you will have to take them for and understand the side effects.

Finding the right medication can be a matter of trial and error. There is no way to predict exactly how medicines will affect you.

Talking therapy and counselling

Talking therapies are effective in the treatment of bipolar, especially for the treatment of depressive symptoms. Sessions may be held on a one to one basis, sometimes include partners or family, or be held in a group. The focus of psychological therapy or counselling in the treatment of bipolar is on education and support for you to understand what is happening to you, to learn coping strategies and to pursue a path of recovery. Sessions help you regain the confidence and belief in yourself that is critical to recovery.

All types of therapy/counselling should be provided in a manner that is respectful to you and with which you feel comfortable and free to ask questions. It should be consistent with and incorporate your cultural beliefs and practices.


Further information can be found at www.bipolarsupportcanterbury .org.nz or Ph (06) 366 5815