Dual Diagnosis: Bipolar Disorder


What is a Bipolar Disorder?

It used to be called ‘manic depressive illness’. As this phrase suggests, you have severe mood swings. These usually last several weeks or months and are far beyond the emotional ups and downs that most of us experience. They can be:1

Low or 'depressive'You feel intensely low, depressed and even despairing.
High or 'manic'You feel extremely happy, elated, and become very overactive. You may develop very grandiose, delusional ideas about yourself and your abilities.
HypomanicYour mood is high, but not so extreme as in mania
MixedYou have a mixture of mania and depression – for example, you feel very depressed, but also have the restlessness and overactivity of mania.

What is Bipolar?

How common is bipolar disorder?

About 1 in every 50 adults will have bipolar disorder at some point in their life. It usually starts between the ages of 15 to 25 – and rarelyafter the age of 50

What causes bipolar disorder?

We don’t understand this well, but research suggests that1:

  • Bipolar disorder seems to happen in families where there is a history of mental health problems3.
  • There may be a problem with the brain systems which control our moods – this is why medications can often help bipolar disorder.
  • Mood swings can be brought on by stressful experiences.

So – genes, disturbances in brain function, life events and stresses all seem to play a part.

Getting help for bipolar disorder

Who will I see?

You may see your GP at first, particularly if you have a depressive episode. But, if they make a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, they will have to refer you to a specialist – a psychiatrist. NICE guidance suggests that mood-stabilisers need to be started by a specialist, even if your care is later taken over by a GP.

When you see a psychiatrist, you will also meet other members of the community mental health team (CMHT). They will be able to help with emotional support, information, psychological interventions, and help with sorting out practical matters.

Once any medication you are taking seems to established and effective, your GP can take over most of your care, although they will usually want you to stay in touch with a psychiatrist and the CMHT.

Medications for bipolar disorder

There are some things that can help to control mood swings so that they stop short of becoming full-blown episodes of mania or depression. These are mentioned below, but medication is still often needed to: 

  • keep your mood stable (prophylaxis)
  • treat a manic or depressive episode.

How to manage bipolar disorder:

Bipolar Disorder + Drugs + Alcohol:


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Do you have a Personal Story of Dual Recovery with this diagnosis?

If you have a dual diagnosis, and you have been clean/sober for at least 1 year then why not submit your personal story so that visitors to this site can hear how you found dual recovery?

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