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Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a medical condition in which a person experiences extreme highs (mania) and extreme lows (depression). Also called manic-depression, it is more serious than the everyday ups and downs that most people experience. During a manic episode, a person’s mood flies high—he or she may be excessively excited, irritable, or aggressive. People who are manic might not see anything wrong with their behavior, even though it’s alienating to family and friends. During a depressive episode, all that manic energy disappears and that same person might feel sad, sluggish, or disinterested in previously enjoyable activities.

Bipolar disorder can manifest in a variety of mood patterns; some people might primarily have episodes of mania or of depression, or they may cycle rapidly between the two. It’s also possible to remain symptom-free for extended periods of time.

Bipolar disorder is based in brain chemistry and tends to run in families. However, environmental factors such as stress, sleep disruption, and drug or alcohol use may also trigger manic-depressive episodes. It is most commonly diagnosed in people of college age. It can affect people’s ability to work, study, interact with others, or take care of themselves. It is not uncommon for people with bipolar disorder to think about suicide, and it is important to seek help immediately if you or someone you know is having these thoughts.

Signs and Symptoms


  • Excessively “high,” euphoric mood
  • Extreme irritability
  • Unrealistic beliefs in one’s abilities and powers, such as feeling able to control world events
  • Decreased need for sleep without feeling tired
  • Racing thoughts or fast speech
  • Distractibility or difficulty concentrating
  • Agitation
  • Spending sprees or other impulsive behavior
  • Increased energy, activity, and restlessness
  • Poor judgment
  • Increased sexual drive or increased sexual behavior different from usual pattern
  • Abuse of drugs, particularly cocaine, alcohol, and sleeping medications
  • Provocative, intrusive, or aggressive behavior
  • Denial that anything is wrong


  • Persistently sad, anxious, irritable or empty mood
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, including sex
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Feeling tired or rundown

Getting Help

The good news is that bipolar disorder is highly treatable with counseling and/or medication. Medications play a big part in successfully managing bipolar disorder; at least 70% of people with bipolar disorder respond well to medication that reduces the frequency and intensity of manic episodes. A healthy lifestyle also plays an important role—proper nutrition and sleep, effective coping skills, a support network and psychotherapy all can help manage bipolar disorder. If you or someone you know may have bipolar disorder, contact your campus health center, especially if thoughts of suicide are present. Your campus health center can connect you with a therapist or group counseling, or find the appropriate medical treatment.

Managing bipolar disorder is a lifelong commitment. When properly diagnosed and treated, people with bipolar disorder can lead highly successful, fulfilling lives.

Please be sure to select your school above so we can provide you with information about resources and help on or near your campus.