Bipolar Disorder

Facts to Know

  • Bipolar disorder, previously known as manic-depressive disorder, is a complex illness in which an individual experiences episodes of mania or hypomania as well as depression, often with normal moods in between.
  • Mania or hypomania may include feeling elated and on top of the world or feeling irritable and angry.
  • Bipolar disorder is highly treatable with a combination of therapy and medications.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

The exact cause of bipolar disorder is not known, but we do know that both genetics and environmental factors each play some role. Sometimes a stressful event, a major life change, or drug use can trigger a manic or depressive episode. In addition, individuals with a family history of mood disorders, including depression or bipolar disorder, are at higher risk for developing bipolar disorder.

In the United States, bipolar disorder is estimated to affect 5.7 million people or 2.6% of the US population with an even split between men and women. Onset usually occurs in adolescence or early adulthood (generally ages 18-25). There are 2 types of Bipolar Disorders:  Bipolar I and Bipolar II. Bipolar I is diagnosed when a person has had a manic episode. Bipolar II is diagnosed when a person has had at least one major depressive episode and at least one hypomanic episode.


Manic Episode: A distinct period lasting at least 1 week, in which a person is extremely happy or irritable accompanied by an increase in activity or energy. Symptoms are severe enough to cause problems with social or occupational functioning. At least 3 of the following additional symptoms are present:

  • Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity
  • Decreased need for sleep (feels well-rested despite lower than normal sleep)
  • Talking more than usual
  • Racing thoughts or rapidly changing ideas that do not have any connection to each other
  • Distractibility
  • Engaging in many activities at once
  • Increased risky behavior (spending excessive money, reckless driving, out of character or careless sexual encounters)

Hypomanic Episode: Hypomania is quite similar to mania but generally with fewer symptoms of lesser severity and of shorter duration (at least 4 days). While other people may recognize a change in mood, symptoms do not cause a major disruption to daily life.

Major Depressive Episode: Although mania is the distinguishing characteristic between bipolar disorder and depression, depressive episodes are generally more frequent and often more severe than the manic or hypomanic episodes in bipolar disorder.

The symptoms of depression are outlined in detail here.

Addiction/Substance Use: Although not formally part of the criteria for diagnosing bipolar disorder, addiction or substance use disorders affect over 50% of people with bipolar disorder.


A diagnosis of bipolar disorder is best made by a doctor or mental health professional such as a psychiatrist.

How Can I Receive Treatment for Bipolar Disorder at Columbia?

At ColumbiaDoctors, we provide the full array of treatments for bipolar disorder across all of our locations. People with bipolar disorder typically benefit most from a combination of medication management, psychotherapy, and maintaining consistency and regularity in their lives.

Search our providers for a therapist or psychiatrist with expertise in bipolar disorder.

To make an appointment, please call 212-305-6001 or submit our online form.