Bipolar Disorder

What is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder, previously known as manic depression, is a medical condition marked by significant changes in mood, thought, energy and behavior. A person’s mood can alternate between the “poles” of mania (highs) and depression (lows). This change in mood or “mood swing” can last for hours, days, weeks, or months and can result in significant problems in areas such as relationships, work, and finances. The turmoil of bipolar disorder is often devastating to careers and personal or social relationships, affecting the whole person and their family.

Bipolar disorder affects more than 5.7 million adult Americans, which is equivalent to the population of the state of Wisconsin. An equal number of men and women develop this illness and it tends to run in families. It is found among all ages, races, ethnic groups and social classes.  Although the direct cause of the illness is unclear, it has long been understood that genetic, biochemical and environmental factors play a role.

There are two main forms of the illness. Bipolar I, the most severe, is referred to as the classic form of the illness. It involves recurrent episodes of mania and depression. People diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder do not experience manias but have milder episodes called hypomanias. They experience alternating episodes of hypomania and depression. Manic and depressive symptoms can also occur at the same time which is called a mixed episode. Rapid cycling bipolar disorder is when a person experiences four or more episodes of manias, hypomanias,or depressive episodes over the course of a year.

Many people do not seek medical attention during periods of mania because they feel manic symptoms (increased energy, heightened mood, increased sexual drive, etc.) have a positive impact on them. However, left unchecked, these behaviors can have harmful results. When symptoms of mania are left untreated, they can lead to illegal or life-threatening situations, because mania often involves impaired judgment and reckless behavior. Death by suicide occurs in up to 20 percent of individuals with this illness.

Several therapies exist for bipolar disorder, and promising new treatments are currently under investigation. Treatment may include psychopharmacologic medications and/or psychotherapy/counseling.

Want to learn more about bipolar disorder and ways to manage it?


The following worksheets are meant to assist you in the discovery and management of your bipolar symptoms. They are not intended to be a substitute for medical or mental health treatment and will be most helpful when used with your clinician.


Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Program
The Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Program’s goals are to discover the fundamental biological changes that cause bipolar disorder and develop new interventions to treat and prevent the illness.

UM Depression Toolkit
The Depression Center Toolkit provides information, tools, support, and resources to guide you through your mental health journey.  

A mental health resource database designed by CAPS.

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
DBSA is a national organization whose mission is to “provide hope, help, and support to improve the lives of people living with depression or bipolar disorder.” Their website provides information on mood disorders and places to find support.


An Unquiet Mind by Kay Jamison, 1995
A memoir written by a renowned clinical psychologist describing her personal experience of bipolar disorder

Bipolar Disorder: A Guide for Patients and Families, 3rd Edition by Francis Mondimore, 2014
This book contains a discussion of the causes of bipolar disorder, and tools for the diagnosis and treatment of the disorder. The book also contains a survey of medications and other supplements said to be effective in treatment.

I am Not Sick, I Don’t Need Help!: How to Help Someone with Mental Illness Accept Treatment by Xavier Amador, 2010
Written after the author`s struggle to get his schizophrenic brother to accept treatment, this book discusses tips and techniques to get someone with schizophrenia, bipolar, or other disorders accept treatment, when many of these patients do not believe they are ill.

The Bipolar Handbook: Real-Life Questions with Up-to-date Answers by Wes Burgess, 2006
Written by a psychiatrist that specializes in bipolar disorder, this book answers more than 500 questions asked by real patients and families.

The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide: What You and Your Family Need to Know by David Miklowitz, 2002
This book covers the origins, symptoms, and treatments available for those with bipolar disorder.

College of the Overwhelmed by Richard Kadison, 2004
This book is written as a guide for students, parents, and others that work with them. It explores the many different stress factors college students face that cause so many of them to suffer from mental illnesses. It also offers some tips for helping students beat stress, and succeed in the college setting.

The Bipolar Handbook for Children, Teens, and Families: Real-Life Questions with Up-to-Date Answers by Wes Burgess, MD, 2008
This book tackles every area of bipolar disorder: causes; medical treatment and psychotherapy; strategies for creating a healthy lifestyle; and preventing, coping with, and treating bipolar episodes. More than five hundred questions and answers address, among other questions, how to choose the right doctor or specialist for your child; what treatment and medication protocols are best; and how to reduce stress to prevent manic and depressive episodes. Special chapters on practical strategies for academic success, building healthy relationships, issues that specifically affect teens versus smaller children, and coping techniques for families and friends further explore the impact of the disorder on daily life.

For additional treatment and support options, see our find treatment services section or our support resources section.


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