Think you might be living with bipolar? How to spot the signs

Everyone experiences mood swings from time to time. But if extreme changes in mood are
affecting your day-to-day life, it's important to get help. In this guide, we explain how to
know if you have bipolar disorder, what the symptoms are and where to get help.

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What is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a long-term mental health condition that affects around 1 in 50 Australians. People living with bipolar disorder tend to experience extreme mood swings. This includes extreme high moods called mania and extreme depressive or low moods. Bipolar disorder used to be called manic depression.

Bipolar disorder usually develops during the teenage years or early adulthood, but it may develop later in life too. It's not known what causes bipolar disorder, although genetic and environmental factors may play a role.

Bipolar disorder symptoms can affect how a person feels, thinks and behaves. For many people, mood episodes can have a large impact on day-to-day life. Extreme highs and severe depression can cause challenges with relationships, self-care, work and social life. If mood changes are affecting how you function in everyday life, it's important to get help.

Types of bipolar

There are several different types of bipolar disorder.

Bipolar type 1 disorder

People with bipolar I disorder typically experience:

  • Manic episodes that last a long time (weeks or months)
  • Depressive episodes

They may also experience psychotic symptoms such as seeing things that aren't really there or believing things that aren't logical.

Bipolar type 2 disorder

People with bipolar II disorder typically experience:

  • Major depressive episodes
  • Hypomanic episodes (similar to a manic episodes, but less severe)

Cyclothymic disorder

People with cyclothymic disorder experience unpredictable changes in mood that occur frequently. This may include episodes of mania and depression. However, episodes tend to be shorter and less extreme than for bipolar I and II disorder.

How to know if you have bipolar

Bipolar disorder symptoms can be severe, affecting everyday life such as work, relationships, physical health and social life.

Depressive symptoms

  • Feeling sad, low or hopeless
  • Low energy
  • No motivation
  • Loss of interest in things that used to bring you joy
  • Difficulty with concentration or memory
  • Feelings of self-hate or worthlessness
  • Lack of appetite or eating too much
  • Sleeping a lot or finding it hard to sleep
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviours

Mania symptoms

  • Feeling very happy or elated
  • Feeling very energetic
  • Talking quickly
  • Racing thoughts
  • Having lots of exciting new ideas
  • Not sleeping
  • Not eating
  • Feeling irritated or agitated easily
  • Difficulty focusing or concentrating
  • Making rash or risky decisions
  • Making big decisions without thinking through the consequences
  • Doing things you wouldn't normally do, such as gambling, spending a lot of money or consuming a lot of drugs and alcohol.

Hypomania symptoms

Hypomania has similar symptoms to mania, but less severe.

Psychotic symptoms

People with bipolar disorder may experience psychotic symptoms during manic and depressive episodes, such as:

  • Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren't there)
  • Delusions (believing things that are irrational to others)

When should you get help?

If you have experienced an episode of mania, hypomania or depression, it's recommended you seek a professional assessment. Talking to your GP is a good place to start.

It's important to get help if mood swings are affecting your day-to-day life. A mental health professional can help you access tools and treatments to cope better.

If you're experiencing suicidal thoughts or behaviours, get help immediately.

  • Call 000
  • Call Lifeline 13 11 14

Support for living with bipolar disorder

There are many supports and services out there to help you manage your health and overcome any challenges you might be facing. These include:

  • Mental health helplines – talk with a counsellor over the phone or online.
  • Support groups – connect with other people who have similar experiences. Ask your GP about support groups in your area.
  • Employment support – government funded programs such as Disability Employment Services help find jobs for people with an injury, illness or disability, including bipolar disorder. Speak to APM about how we can help you find meaningful employment and thrive in the workplace.

Read our other guides on living and working with bipolar disorder:

Supporting job seekers with bipolar

APM is one of Australia's leading providers of employment services for people with bipolar.

We believe everyone is capable of work. If you're living with bipolar and want to find a job, we’re here to help.

APM delivers the Disability Employment Services program in over 500 locations across Australia.

Our committed and experienced employment consultants want to hear your story. They want to focus on you, not your bipolar.

By getting to know you, they can get a clearer picture of where you're at and find solutions to manage or overcome your challenges.

We’re interested in your abilities, your strengths and what you want to accomplish.

With over 25 years' experience helping people find and stay in employment, we’ve seen first-hand the value, health benefits and independence a secure job can bring.

We’re committed to helping people with bipolar reach their goals and improve their lives. Register now to begin your employment journey.

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Sharon, 5, Hand injury

"It's given me my self-esteem back"

Chanay, 22, Hearing impairment

"I was so excited, I couldn't wait to get started"

Shannon, 33, Down syndrome


Your personal job plan

APM helps job seekers success in their search with tailored job support and guidance.

Identify your strengths

  • It's important to identify and communicate your strengths to potential employers and we understand that many individuals with bipolar have unique strengths that can be valuable in the workforce.
  • At APM, we have a team of experienced career consultants who can help you to identify your strengths and them to suitable job opportunities.
  • Our goal is to help you find a job that suits your skills and interests, and we are committed to supporting you throughout the entire process.

Building a job around you

  • Explore realistic job options where you can succeed
  • Develop a personal strategy that includes job searches, resumes and interviews
  • Discuss your support needs with your employer
  • Look at any requirements for equipment or workplace modifications to help you perform a specific job
  • Consider what support you might need when you start working


APM works with Centrelink and the government to deliver Disability Employment Services.

When you register with APM, we check your eligibility for the program and help you get started.

We guide you through the Centrelink process and your initial assessment which decides your capacity for employment and suitability for the program.

Then we set your first appointment with a dedicated APM Employment Consultant who will spend time getting to know you, understanding the challenges you face, and setting up a plan on how you can achieve your goals.

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4 steps to making a positive change in
your life



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Meet your dedicated
Employment Consultant
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Talk to

Discuss your disability or
health condition, and
employment needs.



Your employment journey



Our support doesn't
stop when you start

We make your transition into your new role as smooth as possible and help you deal with any problems that might arise early on.

Our committed employment consultants spend time helping you settle into your new workplace and assist with any on-the-job training where required.

We'll work with you to develop a support plan which is tailored to your circumstances and the needs of your employer.

We'll support you for the first six months of employment in a manner that best suits you.

Should you require further support beyond the first six months of work, we’ll discuss the available options with you.

Our service is funded by the Australian Government to help you achieve your employment goals.

We aim to help you reach a good level of independence and enjoy a successful, productive life at work, at no cost to you or your employer.


Other advice that may help you find a job

How to find work with bipolar disorder

Finding the right job when you have bipolar can be challenging, so we created a guide filled with tips & tools to help you job search, manage interviews & more.

Top 3 benefits of work for people with bipolar disorder

If you have bipolar disorder, gaining meaningful employment can have a big positive impact on your life and mental wellbeing.

Best job ideas for people living with bipolar disorder

Bipolar doesn't prevent you from having a fulfilling career. Read our guide to the best job ideas for people living with bipolar disorder.