It is believed that bipolar mood disorder is caused by a combination of factors including genetics, biochemistry, stress and even the seasons.
Studies on close relations, identical twins and adopted children whose natural parents have bipolar mood disorder strongly suggest that the illness is genetically transmitted, and that children of parents with bipolar mood disorder have a greater risk of developing the disorder.
Mania, like major depression , is believed to be associated with a chemical imbalance in the brain which can be corrected with medication.
Stress may play a part in triggering symptoms, but not always. Sometimes the illness itself may cause the stressful event (such as divorce or a failed business), which may then be blamed for the illness.
Mania is more common in spring, and depression in early winter. The reason for this is not clear.
Effective treatments are available for depressive and manic episodes of bipolar mood disorder. For the depressive phase of this illness, anti-depressant medications are effective. Anti-depressants are not addictive. They slowly return the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, taking 1-4 weeks to achieve their positive effects. Medication should be adjusted only under medical supervision, as some people may experience the onset of a manic phase.
It may be necessary to admit a person with severe depression to hospital for a time. When people are in a manic phase, it can often be difficult to persuade them that they need treatment. It may sometimes be necessary to admit the person to hospital if the symptoms are severe.
During acute or severe attacks of mania, several different medications are used. Some are specifically used to calm the person's manic excitement; others are used to help stabilise the person's mood. Medications such as lithium are also used as preventive measures, as they help to control mood swings and reduce the frequency and severity of depressive and manic phases.
Psychotherapy and counselling are used with medication to help the person understand the illness and better manage its effects on their life.
With access to appropriate treatment and support, most people with bipolar mood disorder lead full and productive lives.
Where to go for help
For information on services, check the Community Help and Welfare Services and 24-hour emergency numbers in...