When talking about wellbeing, it’s common to use the word “balance” to describe optimal state of mind and body. When we experience an imbalance, we might start experiencing discomfort and find coping with daily challenges difficult.

Often, our mood can impact the way we perceive the world around us and how we interact with people. Experiencing frequent mood swings can make it harder to stay focused, make good decisions and foster our wellbeing.

Everyone has changes to their mood. Sometimes staying “in balance” can be a challenge. If you are finding mood swings unmanageable or distressing, there could be a number of reasons and it’s always worth consulting your doctor if concerned. For some, extreme moods can be a symptom of bipolar disorder.

Bipolar is the fourth most-common mental health problem worldwide after depression, anxiety and schizophrenia.It mainly affects your mood as it is characterised by extreme highs and lows in one’s moods, which can feel overwhelming and stressful. The highs are called manic or hypomanic episodes and the lows are known as depressive episodes. During a manic episode you might notice you talk too fast, not need much sleep, have uncontrollable rapid thoughts, feel overconfident and over important, act impulsively and use poor judgement. It’s common to experience alternating episodes of mania and depression which can be linked to psychotic symptoms too.

Bipolar affects everyone differently and can be difficult to diagnose. It takes an average 9 years to get a correct diagnosis of bipolar and there is a misdiagnosis an average of 3.5 times.Acting fast in receiving treatment is crucial as even the mildest symptoms of bipolar can become very serious and affect many aspect of our lives, creating a high level of stress for individuals and their loved ones.

Anyone can develop bipolar, regardless of age, gender, social or ethnic background. It is a lifelong mental illness that can be triggered by life’s most stressful events or traumatic experiences, such as work, studies, family, emotions, childbirth or menopause. In 2014, younger people were more likely to have bipolar than older people – 3.4% of 16-24 year olds screened positive but only 0.4% of 65-74 year olds screened positive.3

Key factors in coping with bipolar are early diagnosis, acceptance of the mental health problem and adapting your lifestyle in order to be in control of your symptoms as much as possible. It’s also important to remember you are not alone and that 1.3 million people in the UK have bipolar. That is one in fifty people.Recent research suggests as many as 5% of us are on the bipolar spectrum.5,6

Learning to manage bipolar with medication, health care, therapy and self-management can be a life long journey. You can understand how bipolar effects you personally by monitoring your moods and identifying triggers. The Bipolar UK mood diary can help you and your GP understand your mood swings patterns better. Tracking your sleep, medications, diet and exercise routine can greatly help too. Research shows that eating a healthy, balanced diet, cutting down on caffeine and alcohol, exercising regularly, sleeping for seven to eight hours each night, avoiding stress factors, and having healthy ways to relax can significantly help in dealing with bipolar symptoms.

It’s important to bear in mind that bipolar is a serious mental illness as it increases an individual’s risk of suicide by up to 20 times. The World Health Organisation identifies bipolar as one of the top causes of lost years of life and health in 15 to 44 year olds.

To better understand and manage bipolar, having a strong support network can have a huge positive impact. Sharing your thoughts, emotions and experience with family members, your partner or close friends, as well as connecting with other people who are also affected by bipolar can help you to cope and feel less isolated in understanding bipolar disorder.

If you’d like to learn more about bipolar disorder, you can also visit specialised charities such as BipolarUKMind, or the Mental Health Foundation.


  1. Vos, T., Barber, RM., Bell, B., Bertozzi-Villa, A., Biruyukov, S., Bollinger, I., …Murray, CJ.. (2013). Global, regional, and national incidence, prevalence, and years lived with disability for 301 acute and chronic diseases and injuries in 188 countries, 1990-2013: A systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease study. The Lancet, 386(9995), 743-800.
  2. S. Nassir Ghaemi (2001). ‘Bipolar Disorder: How long does it usually take for someone to be diagnosed for bipolar disorder?’. Archived from the original on December 7, 2006. Retrieved February 20, 2007.
  3. Marwaha, S., Sal, N., & Bebbington, P. (2016). Chapter 9: Bipolar disorder. In S. McManus, P. Bebbington, R., Jenkins, & T. Brugha (Eds.), Mental health and wellbeing in England: Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey 2014. Leeds: NHS Digital.
  4. Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey: Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, England, 2014.
  5. Merikangas KR, Peters TL, Update on the Epidemiology of Bipolar Disorder. In Yatham LN, Maj M “Bipolar Disorder Clinical and Neurobiological Foundations”, Chapter 6, page 52-61. Wiley-Blackwell UK, 2010.
  6. Lam, D.; Wright, K.; Smith, N. (2004). “Dysfunctional assumptions in bipolar disorder”. Journal of Affective Disorders 79.

Author: Sarah Speziali, Chief Therapist at InsideOut