- Stress – Stressful life events can trigger bipolar disorder in someone with a genetic vulnerability. These events tend to involve drastic or sudden changes—either good or bad—such as getting married, going away to college, losing a loved one, getting fired, or moving.
- Substance Abuse – While substance abuse doesn’t cause bipolar disorder, it can bring on an episode and worsen the course of the disease. Drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy, and amphetamines can trigger mania, while alcohol and tranquilizers can trigger depression.
- Medication – Certain medications, most notably antidepressant drugs, can trigger mania. Other drugs that can cause mania include over-the-counter cold medicine, appetite suppressants, caffeine, corticosteroids, and thyroid medication.
- Seasonal Changes – Episodes of mania and depression often follow a seasonal pattern. Manic episodes are more common during the summer, and depressive episodes more common during the fall, winter, and spring.
- Sleep Deprivation – Loss of sleep—even as little as skipping a few hours of rest—can trigger an episode of mania.
Bipolar disorder has no single cause. It appears that certain people are genetically predisposed to bipolar disorder, yet not everyone with an inherited vulnerability develops the illness, indicating that genes are not the only cause. Some brain imaging studies show physical changes in the brains of people with bipolar disorder. Other research points to neurotransmitter imbalances, abnormal thyroid function, circadian rhythm disturbances, and high levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
More help for bipolar disorder
- Bipolar Disorder Treatment: Treatment and Therapy for Bipolar Mania and Bipolar Depression
- Bipolar Support and Self-Help: Living and Coping with Bipolar Disorder
- Helping Loved Ones with Bipolar Disorder: Bipolar Disorder in Children, Teens, and Family Members
- Bipolar Medication Guide: Medications and Drugs for Bipolar Disorder Treatment
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health: Substance Abuse and Co-Occurring Disorders
- Suicide Prevention: How to Help Someone who is Suicidal
- Suicide Help: Dealing with Suicidal Thoughts and Feelings
- Dealing with Depression: Self-Help and Coping Tips to Overcome Depression
Resources and references
General information about bipolar disorder
Bipolar Disorder – Article on the symptoms, causes, and treatment of bipolar disorder, or manic depression. (National Institute of Mental Health)
The Secret Life of Manic Depression: Everything You Need to Know About Bipolar Disorder(PDF) – Guide to bipolar disorder, with information about symptoms, personal profiles, and treatment advice. (Internet Mental Health)
Treatment of Bipolar Disorder: A Guide for Patients and Families (PDF) – Gives a helpful overview of the signs, symptoms, causes, and treatment of bipolar disorder. (PsychGuides)
Bipolar Disorder: Really a Cycling Illness – An introduction to bipolar disorder from a mental health journalist who also suffers from it. (McMan’s Bipolar and Depression Web)
Signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder
Bipolar Disorder in Adults – Covers the signs and symptoms of mania and bipolar depression, as well as how bipolar disorder is diagnosed. (National Institute of Mental Health)
Bipolar I Disorder – Covers the symptoms and diagnostic criteria for Bipolar I Disorder, including the signs of individual mood episodes of hypomania, mania, and depression. (Internet Mental Health)
Bipolar Disorder: Rapid Cycling and its Treatment – Includes information on the signs, symptoms, and causes of rapid cycling in bipolar disorder. (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance)
Multipolar Depression: Where Unipolar Meets Bipolar – Describes the differences between the symptoms of bipolar depression and regular depression. (McMan’s Depression and Bipolar Web)
Bipolar disorder and suicide prevention
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – Suicide prevention telephone hotline funded by the U.S. government. Provides free, 24-hour assistance. 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Understanding Suicidal Thinking – Learn how to fight suicidal thoughts, help someone else who is suicidal, and respond to an emergency situation. (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance)
Causes of bipolar disorder
What Causes Bipolar Disorder? (PDF) – Describes how an interaction between genetic vulnerability, biological vulnerability, and life stress causes bipolar disorder. (Centre for Clinical Interventions)
What other readers are saying
“I was diagnosed with unipolar depression at age 19, and took various antidepressants until age 26 with no success. I was then hospitalized and diagnosed as a mixed episode, rapid cycling bipolar, with no idea of what that meant. This website took the doctor-speak of my illness and made it understandable to me [so] I can take better care of myself.” ~ Arizona
“Thank you for your informative article. I have been struggling for years with misdiagnosis of my symptoms. I’m so grateful that I don’t have to live this way the rest of my life. This fits my symptoms perfectly.” ~ North Carolina