HeadMeds gives young people in the United Kingdom general information about medication. HeadMeds does not give you medical advice. Please talk to your Doctor or anyone else who is supporting you about your own situation because everyone is different. Please read more important details about our site.


Bipolar (also known as "Bipolar Affective Disorder" or "Manic Depression") is a serious mental illness where people swing from feeling very happy and manic to feeling very low and depressed, basically extreme mood swings, which can last for a few days or even weeks.

People with bipolar disorder may not show symptoms all the time. You may go for a long time feeling fine, and then be hit with these extreme mood swings. Some young people experience other symptoms like psychosis, which is when you see or believe things that aren’t there or even real.

Bipolar is not a common mental health problem and is quite rare in children. It affects approximately 1 in 100 people and usually starts around the age of 15-19 years old.

If you have some or even all of the symptoms of bipolar disorder, it does not necessarily mean you have it – if you are concerned that you might have it, you should speak to your doctor or someone you trust to support you in getting the right help.

Treating Bipolar

Bipolar disorder is a serious mental health problem but with monitoring and the right treatment you can lead a ‘normal’ life. With time you can learn to recognise the start of an up or down phase and know what to do when this happens.

Treatment for bipolar disorder is mainly based on psychotropic medication, but each individual responds differently to each choice of drug in terms of side effects, so you must discuss this thoroughly with your doctor, nurse of pharmacist.

Once the mood swings are under control, you may also be offered talking therapy such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which helps you understand your thoughts, feeling and behaviours and think about things differently.

Treatment should be regularly reviewed to ensure it is still right and working for you, so you must be honest with your doctor, nurse or pharmacist about how you are feeling so they can help you the best they can.

Symptoms of Bipolar

Young people with bipolar disorder may show symptoms during manic episodes including:

  • Extreme mood swings, very happy periods followed by very low moods
  • Feeling irritable
  • Increased activity, such as talking a lot
  • Racing thoughts
  • Over confidence
  • Not needing to sleep
  • Behaving in ways that can get you into trouble
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Lack of personal care

During low periods symptoms may include:

  • Decreased energy
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Lack of appetite
  • Thoughts of self-harm

If you would like more information about bipolar disorder and the way it affects young people, you can visit the YoungMinds website. There is more information about YoungMinds here (link to YoungMinds page on home page about us).

YoungMinds site: Bipolar disorder


During manic episodes you may be offered anti-psychotic drugs; during depressive episodes you should be monitored and if medication is required, this could include a type of anti-depressant called a Selective Serotonin Reuptakes Inhibitor (SSRI), possibly Prozac (Fluoxetine)

Antidepressants can take a few weeks to get into your system and start working, and must be taken regularly.

You may be prescribe a "preventer" medicine to help balance your moods in the future. These medicines are taken every day, even if you feel well. Examples of this type of medicine are lithium, valproate and carbamazepine

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Common medications for this condition

  • Carbamazepine

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  • Fluoxetine

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  • Lithium

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  • Mirtazapine

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  • Olanzapine

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  • Valproate

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