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A guide for young people Bipolar disorder

If you think you might have bipolar disorder, you’re not alone. Find out more about the condition and what to do if you’re affected by it.

What is bipolar disorder?

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Bipolar disorder is a disorder in which your mood can become extremely high or low, with episodes lasting for days or weeks on end.

It affects one in 100 people and tends to begin later in adolescence, with symptoms usually starting between the ages of 15 and 19 in young people.

Celebrities like Demi Lovato have spoken publicly about bipolar disorder, and show that even if you’re affected by it, with the right treatment you can get on with life and continue doing the things you enjoy.

The symptoms of bipolar disorder

Symptoms of bipolar disorder include:

  • extreme mood swings
  • manic episodes, which can involve talking a lot, racing thoughts, over confidence and increased activity
  • low mood
  • difficulty concentrating
  • decreased energy
  • sleep problems - feeling like you hardly need sleep or having difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
  • reduced appetite
  • thoughts of self-harm
  • psychosis - if manic, this might consist of beliefs that you have special powers or abilities

Symptoms can come and go

The symptoms of bipolar disorder can come and go – they won’t necessarily be present all the time.

Just because you experience one or more of these symptoms, it doesn’t mean you definitely have bipolar disorder. It’s important to talk to your GP to get a full diagnosis.

How to speak to your GP

Getting help and support for bipolar disorder

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Take the first step

If you think you are affected by bipolar disorder, talk to your GP or school counsellor.

If your GP thinks you might be affected, they should refer you to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) or a specialist psychiatrist.

Guide to CAMHS

Treating bipolar disorder

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The first stage of treatment is to get your mood changes under control. During manic episodes, you may be offered an antipsychotic drug, or a drug to stabilise your mood, such as lithium.

You may then be offered individual, family or group psychological therapy that can help with symptoms and help to reduce the risk of you getting unwell again.

Once your mood swings are under control, you could also benefit from talking therapy like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which can help you understand your thoughts and behaviour better, and help you think of things differently.

Find out more about medications

Get help now

Where to get help

If you're struggling with your mood or behaviour you are not alone. Here are some services which can really help you. 

  • Samaritans

    Whatever you're going through, you can contact the Samaritans for support. N.B. This is a listening service and does not offer advice or intervention.

    Opening times:
  • Childline

    If you’re under 19 you can confidentially call, chat online or email about any problem big or small.

    Sign up for a free Childline locker (real name or email address not needed) to use their free 1-2-1 counsellor chat and email support service.

    Can provide a BSL interpreter if you are deaf or hearing-impaired.

    Hosts online message boards where you can share your experiences, have fun and get support from other young people in similar situations.

    Opening times:
  • The Mix

    Offers online information as well as helpline support to under-25s about anything that’s troubling them.

    Email support is available via their online contact form.

    Free 1-2-1 webchat service and telephone helpline available.

    Opening times:
    4pm - 11pm, seven days a week

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