Bipolar Illness / Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar illness, also known as biploar disorder (previously called manic depressive illness, which has nothing to do with being a maniac!) is a chemical imbalance affecting about 3% of the population to a greater or lesser extent.

People with this genetically driven chemical imbalance can become severely depressed very easily and develop overwhelming thoughts of suicide.   They can also become elated and “high”, and can do lots of damage to their lives by reckless spending, reckless sexual activity, reckless comments and reckless decisions.

When you are depressed, nothing can apparently go right in life;  when you are high, nothing apparently can go wrong in life!  

It is estimated that 10-15% of people with Bipolar illness will die from suicide.  For more information, you can go


A number of people who develop depression, will turn out eventually to have a more complicated form of depression known as Bipolar illness or Bipolar Disorder.  This is a condition in which people not only have depression, but also have the other “pole” of mood illnesses, being “highs”.   The importance of diagnosing Bipolar illness as early as possible, in situations which otherwise seem like straightforward depression, lies in the benefits of taking medication which prevents mood swings; otherwise, there is the risk that treating depression with standard treatments actually makes the individual’s moods more unstable, triggering off episodes of being high more often than otherwise would be the case.   And just to make life more complicated, any episode of being high carries with it a 50% chance of an immediate depression following the high.


HIGHS: While it is very difficult to come up with a simple way of telling the difference between various mood swings and Bipolar illness, a very useful question is the number of hours a person needs to sleep.   We all have times when we cannot sleep, or we deliberately deprive ourselves of sleep to go to parties, to get up early for planes or to complete academic or other work that has a deadline.  However, having periods of time in which an individual feels they do not need very much sleep, and feels fine the next day,or for a few days, is very suggestive of episodes of being high.  Having such episodes in people who have depression is an important marker and should be discussed with a doctor.


LOWS: Unfortunately, the depressions that develop in Bipolar illness can be abrupt and severe, and severe depression is so disabling and painful that people become tempted to suicide.   There are in fact many very effective treatments which can stabilize and prevent Bipolar illness, and this illness usually does require medication to achieve this benefit.   Of course, personal effort to avoid stress, to deal well with stress, and to lead a healthy lifestyle, will all assist in minimising the impact of Bipolar illness.


Further information on this condition is available on