Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness. People who have it go through unusual mood changes. They go from very happy, “up,” and active to very sad and hopeless, “down,” and inactive, and then back again. They often have normal moods in between. The up feeling is called mania. The down feeling is depression. Bipolar disorder often starts in a person’s late teen or early adult years, but children and adults can have bipolar disorder too. The illness usually lasts a lifetime. If not treated, bipolar disorder can lead to damaged relationships, poor job or school performance, and even suicide. However, there are effective treatments to control symptoms: medicine and talk therapy. A combination usually works best.

Bipolar disorder usually begins in late adolescence or early adulthood. Although the disorder has been diagnosed in children younger than 12, it is not common. It is easily confused with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, so careful diagnosis is necessary.

About 2.8% of the population have bipolar disorder. Men and women are equally likely to develop this illness.