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Bipolar Disorder

UBC PATHS Blog Post: Apr 13, 2023

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a mental health condition characterized by episodes of mania or hypomania (elevated or irritable mood, increased energy or activity, decreased need for sleep, grandiosity, racing thoughts) and periods of depression (persistent sadness, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, sleep disturbances, and suicidal thoughts).


The exact cause of the bipolar disorder is not fully understood, but the disorder is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, and neurochemical factors

  • Genes involved in neurotransmitter signalling, circadian rhythms, and synaptic plasticity have been associated with increased risk for bipolar disorder

  • Environmental factors, such as stress, trauma, substance use, and sleep disruption, can trigger bipolar disorder

  • Neurochemical imbalances in the brain, such as changes in dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine signalling, may also lead to bipolar disorder


  • Although there is no direct cure or treatment for bipolar disorder, the most common methods include medications such as antidepressants, behavioural therapy or counselling, and support groups

  • More natural treatment options include light therapy, meditation, and regular exercise

Did You Know?

  • Bipolar disorder is usually diagnosed in the late teens or early adulthood, although people of all ages can be diagnosed with bipolar disorder

  • There are 3-4 main categorizations of bipolar disorder:

    • Bipolar I disorder: categorized by extreme/long-lasting manic episodes, as well as depressive episodes

    • Bipolar II disorder: categorized by hypomanic and depressive episodes, however, hypomanic episodes are often less severe than manic

    • Cyclothymia: categorized by recurring hypomanic and depressive symptoms that are not long-lasting/extreme enough to be categorized as episodes

  • Severe bipolar disorder is estimated to affect 2.3% of the adult population, but 51% of individuals with bipolar disorder are untreated every year

Connection to Dementia

  • The risk of developing dementia is higher in people who have had bipolar disorder

  • The number of bipolar episodes that a person experiences could play a role in dementia risk

  • The drug Lithium, usually prescribed to people with bipolar disorder, could lower the risk for dementia


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