Bipolar disorder: What is it, what are the symptoms and who suffers from it?

As Mariah Carey reveals she struggles with the condition, we found out exactly what you need to know.

Singer Mariah Carey has revealed she struggles with bipolar.

In an interview with PEOPLE magazine, she reveals that she was first diagnosed in 2001. But what is it? And what is being done to find a solution for the disorder?

We found out more about the mental illness.

What is it?

National charity Bipolar UK characterise the condition as “a severe mental health illness characterised by significant mood swings, including manic highs and depressive lows”, and note that, “the majority of individuals with bipolar experience alternating episodes of mania and depression”.

While many think of depression as a condition where a person feels intensely sad and lethargic, those who suffer with bipolar feel those intense lows, but also have great highs as well.

Bipolar UK explains that bipolar “affects every aspect of your life and your relationship. Family and friends can all be put under stress. This is why you need to get a correct diagnosis, accept treatment and start to learn how you can adapt your lifestyle to cope with the ups and downs.”

[Read more: What is bipolar? Here's what it's like to live with the condition]

What are the symptoms?

There are two sides to bipolar: mania and depression.

During a bout of depression, it is possible to feel: grumpy, without hope, guilty, self-doubting, suicidal, pessimistic, worthless, lacking curiosity and concentration.

And with mania: elation, full of energy, ideas and plans, easily distracted, feeling invincible, risky behaviour including spending huge amounts of money.

Both can feature: lack of appetite, insomnia and delusions.

What happens in diagnosis?

According to Bipolar UK, on average it takes 10.5 years for a person to receive a correct diagnosis for bipolar in the UK.

People are often diagnosed with chronic depression before a manic episode presents itself, and it is through the assessment of mood swings that a final diagnosis can be pinned down by doctors.

[Related story: 18 things everyone needs to understand about depression]

Who suffers from bipolar?

People of all ages, ethnicities and sexes can develop bipolar, with 1-2% of the population suffering from the condition throughout their lifetime.

Research has indicated that up to 5% of people are on the bipolar spectrum, and there is a suggestion that there is an inherited predisposition for the condition, however, it is often triggered by a major traumatic or stressful life event.

How can bipolar be managed?

As yet, there is no cure for bipolar disorder, but sufferers can be treated with mood-stabilising medications, bolstered by psychological support such as group and individual talking therapies. Regular exercise and a healthy diet have also been shown to improve symptoms.

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