bipolar disorder


Marked  by extreme highs and lows, this mood disorder affects approximately 12 million Americans.
- The California Bipolar Foundation


bipolar disorder

Know the facts.

Bipolar disorder (bi = two; polar = opposite) is a serious mood disorder that causes dramatic mood swings from severe lows (depression) to extreme highs (mania).

People with bipolar disorder can also experience periods when they don’t have the symptoms of either depression or mania, and they feel healthy and symptom-free. This is called a balanced or stable mood. This makes it especially difficult to diagnose. 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, bipolar disorder affects 4% of the population.

This disorder typically develops in the late teens or early adult years, with more than half of all cases starting between the ages of 15-25.

Symptoms of depression:
A person with depression might...

  • show changes in their mood.
    • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
    • Extreme sadness for no apparent reason
    • Feeling uncontrollably sad, worried, or empty for at least two weeks
  • show changes in their behavior.
    • Feeling hopeless
    • Feeling tired or “slowed down”
    • Having problems concentrating, remembering and making decisions
    • Being restless or irritable
    • Having extreme changes in eating or sleeping
    • Thinking of death or suicide

Symptoms of mania:
A person with mania might...

  • show changes in their mood.
    • Feeling extremely irritable or agitated
    • Having long periods of feeling “high” or overly stimulated
    • Feeling jumpy, jittery or wired
  • show changes in their behavior.
    • Talking fast
    • Having racing thoughts
    • Jumping from one idea to another
    • Being restless or easily distracted
    • Having unrealistic beliefs in one’s abilities
    • Behaving impulsively and taking part in high risk and reckless behaviors
    • Endangering personal health or well-being

Balanced or Stable Mood:

  • People with bipolar disorder also experience times when their mood is stable or balanced. This means they are not experiencing symptoms of either depression or mania, but they still have bipolar disorder.  

Symptoms of bipolar disorder:
Bipolar disorder is hard to diagnose...

  • Symptoms of bipolar disorder may resemble other disorders, such as depression, ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorder and even thyroid problems.
  • Mood states may last weeks, months, or years which make the diagnosis between depression and bipolar more difficult.
  • Bipolar disorder usually first presents itself during the teenage years when mood swings are more common. This also can be confusing for a mental health professional.

An effective maintenance treatment plan can include medication and psychotherapy (talking with a therapist). 

By taking medication prescribed by a psychiatrist and working with a mental health professional, people affected with bipolar disorder can experience fewer, less severe or minimal mood swings, and can live a successful life.

It is also important to get enough sleep, eat healthy foods, exercise, manage stress, and avoid drugs and alcohol.

Family and friends also provide important support.


  • Understand that people with bipolar disorder experience mood swings differently. Sometimes mood swings are fast cycling and sometimes they can last for weeks or months.
  • Understand that being in a stable mood does not mean that a person no longer has bipolar disorder. It  means they are not experiencing symptoms of mania or depression at that time.
  • Using the word bipolar as a way to describe mood swings in friends can be hurtful and disrespectful to those who are diagnosed with this disorder.


  • Educate yourself about the disorder.
  • Listen to your friend when they want to talk.
  • Keep checking in with your friend.
  • Use 1st person language. Say,
    “My friend has bipolar disorder.” not “My friend is bipolar.”
  • Reassure your friend of your support and understanding.


  • “It’s not your fault.”
  • “I’m listening.”
  • “I am here for you.”
  • “It’s the illness that causes these thoughts and feelings.”
  • “This must be really difficult for you.”


  • “It’s all in your head.”
  • “What’s wrong with you?”
  • “Get over yourself, you have no reason to feel that way.”
  • “Shouldn’t you be better by now?”
  • Bipolar disorder is a very serious mental illness. It is important not to use the term “bipolar” lightly to refer to daily ups and downs as this is disrespectful of people who are struggling with this severe mood disorder.


  • ...tell a friend to “Snap out of it!”
  • ...diagnose.
  • ...gossip.
  • ...take your friend’s withdrawal personally.

Find additional information on our Mental Health Disorders page and other suggestions on our Understanding Stigma page >>

Can you answer these questions?

  1. What is bipolar disorder? (Name the two major states of bipolar disorder in your answer)
  2. Describe some symptoms of the depressive episode and the manic episode of bipolar disorder.
  3. What makes it difficult to diagnose bipolar disorder?
  4. What types of treatment are available for people experiencing bipolar disorder?
  5. What can you do to support someone with bipolar disorder?
  6. How do you think stigma might affect a person with bipolar disorder?

*Hint: Read the BIPOLAR Disorder facts at the top of this page to find the answers for 1-5. And view our Understanding Stigma page for question #6.


bipolar disorder

I’m Bipolar, But I’m Not…
What can it be like to experience Mania?
Bipolar Disorder - A short Introduction
What’s It Like To Have Bipolar Disorder?


Know the facts.

Fact: Symptoms of bipolar disorder include dramatic mood swings - from severe lows (depression) to extreme highs (mania).

People with bipolar disorder can also experience periods when their mood is relatively stable.

This makes it difficult to diagnose. Often, bipolar disorder can interfere with one's daily functioning and sometimes can even lead to suicide.

- Adapted from Global Medical Education

Fact: With proper treatment, more than 40% of patients with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder can expect a complete recovery, while 50% more can expect a marked reduction in symptoms.

- Adapted from

Fact: With proper medical treatment and support many people with bipolar disorder can work and lead successful and fulfilling lives.

- Adapted from

Fact: While it may sound like fun being on a manic high, experts say that mania can also cause people to become edgy and irritable.

Also, the CEO of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance says, "When you are moving into mania, you are losing control of your actions and thoughts."

This becomes disturbing and patients often have trouble sleeping as well.

- Adapted from WebMD

Fact: Four percent of Americans are diagnosed with bipolar disorder (12 million people). Many more people stay silent because of stigma.
- Adapted from NIMH



It's OK to ask for help.
Talk to a trusted adult.

Visit and access the all new YouthWell Community Resources Directory. You will find youth behavioral health and wellness resources in this resource directory.

If you or someone you know has harmed themselves or is in immediate risk of harm CALL 911 immediately.

SAFTY ~ Safe Alternatives for Treating Youth 

  • 888-334-2777 - SAFTY is a mobile crisis response service available daily 8am-8pm, providing crisis intervention, phone, and in-home support, and linkage to mental health services. Available to all SB County youth, age 0-20, regardless of insurance or ability to pay. 

Crisis Text Line

  • Text SIGNS to 741741 for 24/7, anonymous, free crisis counseling.
    Crisis Text Line serves anyone, in any type of crisis, providing access to free, 24/7 support and information via text. A live, trained Crisis Counselor receives the text and responds quickly.

Suicide Prevention Lifeline

  • 1-800-273-TALK (8255)  or  ONLINE LIVE CHAT
    24-hour, toll-free, confidential suicide prevention hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Your call is routed to the nearest crisis center in the national network of 150+ crisis center

Learning about mental health is the first step to wellness. The Mental Wellness Center (MWC) can help families find medical and professional care, as well as teach important skills on how to manage your mental health. Many families in our community have teenagers who are struggling with depression, anxiety, ADHD and other mental health issues. It can be overwhelming as a parent to find support for your teenager and difficult to talk about these issues. The MWC is focused on providing a safe and confidential space for families to connect with others, access community resources and get the support your family needs.


Keeping Connected Group
Come discuss life, work on communication and social skills and enjoy time with your peers! This weekly group brings together teens, 14-18, to learn emotion management in a fun, safe and confidential place. Learn and practice self-management skills for better self-regulation. Drop-ins are welcome.

Wellness Connection Program
The Wellness Connection is a high school leadership program of the Mental Wellness Center that educates, empowers, and engages students. Students raise awareness and reduce stigma around mental health by promoting self-care, connection, kindness, education, prevention, and outreach amongst their peers.

In Fall of 2020, the Wellness Connection welcomed more than 50 local high school students to their leadership council from high schools throughout Santa Barbara County.

To learn more about the Wellness Connection Program at the Mental Wellness Center, visit

Mental Health Matters • 6th & 9th GRADE CLASSES
MHM teaches basic facts about mental health to sixth and ninth grade students in the classroom. Instructors talk about stigma and how it affects our perceptions of mental illness and taking care of ourselves. Students learn the facts, including symptoms and warning signs, of specific mental health disorders.


SPOT (Support for Parents of Teens and Adolescents)
Mom Group - Meets Mondays at 10:00 AM (Spanish Group), Tuesdays at 12:00 PM (for moms) and Wednesdays at 6:30 PM (for all caregivers).

SPOT is a safe space for caregivers of teens and young adults to connect with other caregivers who might also be struggling in parenting a child with mental health challenges. We listen, support, and gain perspective in what is in our control and what is not. Facilitated discussion on emotional intelligence, coping strategies, and mindfulness is all incorporated during our time together.

For more information and to participate in SPOT, please contact Mental Wellness Center Family Advocate, Ramona Winner, at: 805-884-8440 ext. 3206, You must contact Ramona first to receive ZOOM link. If you are interested in joining the SPOT Spanish Group for Moms, please contact Isis Castaneda at: 805-448-0920.

Family Advocate
The MWC Family Advocate can assist families and provide assistance in understanding and navigating the local public and private mental health systems, help identify various clinical and support services available in our community and provide one-on-one support in times of crisis. 805.884.8440 x3206


Mental Health First Aid, Youth Mental Health First Aid, Teen Mental Health First Aid
This 8-hour course is offered monthly at the MWC and teaches participants how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. It also teaches an action plan to use in a psychiatric emergency. This course can be customized and provided on-site in schools and organizations. For more information visit

NAMI Santa Barbara County

Family-to-Family Educational Classes
This 8-week course (in English and Spanish) helps families better understand how their family member experiences their illness, how to best support the recovery process and how to better cope with the impact on the entire family. Contact the MWC Family Advocate to inquire or reserve a place in the next series. 805-884-8440 x3206

4th Thursday Speaker Presentations
NAMI Santa Barbara County offers free monthly presentations with dynamic speakers on topics of local interest related to mental health. Visit to learn more and see a full listing of NAMI Santa Barbara County offerings including upcoming groups and classes.


The Mental Wellness Center (MWC) lending library provides books for independent learning available for loan to MWC clients and their families.

The collection covers a wide variety of topics related to mental health and wellness and contains books on a range of mental health disorders including ADD/ADHD, anxiety disorders, bipolar mood disorder, depression, eating disorders, and schizophrenia. Materials on client and family coping and survival strategies, drug abuse in dual diagnosis, and suicide are also available. You will also find a limited selection of materials on psychopharmacology, memoirs, some relevant fiction, and a small collection of books written for children and teens.

The MWC Library Online Catalog is available for free online, click the button below to access. Simply input “MWC Library” as the library name, no password is required.


You may check out the library collection during MWC open hours or formal meeting periods. Contact your Support Group Facilitator to register as a library patron and obtain information on library procedures.