I’ve always had ups and downs. Sometimes I was lazy for weeks on end, and then very active again, with little sleep and my brains working at full speed.


Did you know this?

Bipolar mood disorder occurs in approximately 1% of the population. When it already runs in the family, the chance of occurrence increases. Bipolar disorder affects just as many men as women and usually finds its onset between the age of 15 and 35. This means even young people may be affected. The initial symptoms are usually non-specific, yet emotional and behavioural problems tend to prevail.

Ups en downs

Bipolar or manic-depressive disorder is a mood disorder in which depressive episodes alternate with manic episodes characterised by high energy levels. Both mood extremes have a pronounced effect on your thoughts and feelings.

  • depressive episodes: a depressive episode is characterised by persistent sadness. The things that used to cheer you up no longer make you happy. Everything seems dull and gloomy. You feel like your energy has been depleted and replaced by feelings of hopelessness, despair and a loss of interest and enjoyment.
  • (hypo)manic episodes: when going through a manic episode, you are constantly excited and giddy, you seem tireless and have excessive energy and confidence. This can give rise to the most unrealistic plans and an overestimation of your abilities. Combined with a diminished sense of judgement, this state of over-activity can lead you into risky or even dangerous situations.

Psychotic symptoms, such as slurred speech and behaviour, paranoia or hallucinations, can occur during extreme episodes.

Two realities, two variants

When suffering from bipolar disorder, life is divided into two realities: euphoria and depression. Bipolar conditions occur in many different variants, yet the two most common are:

  • type 1 in which episodes of euphoria alternate with periods of depression
  • type 2 in which the episodes of euphoria are shorter and milder, and the depressive episodes last longer.

In some people, ups and downs alternate very rapidly and without breaks. This is called ‘rapid cycling’.

Living intensely in between two extremes

In between two extremes, it sometimes seems impossible to find the right balance to live a healthy life. The condition can greatly undermine your performance in your studies, work and family life, while the financial and social impact can be quite significant as well. This makes the condition hard to deal with.

  • During a manic episode, self-confidence and sometimes a certain degree of megalomania prevail. As such, you tend to lose an accurate sense of reality, which may have a major impact both on yourself and on your surroundings. Your rash behaviour can bring about conflicts and irritations.
  • In a depressive period, you tend to be sad and downcast for days or weeks on end. At that time, it is important for your immediate surroundings to offer help and support.

Self-knowledge has really been my saviour. And patience. At first, I needed a lot of help and guidance, but now this has been reduced to a minimum.


Talk about it

Are you experiencing persistent mood swings? An important first step is to talk about it. This can bring relief and help you sort things out.

Talk to someone you trust and feel comfortable with, preferably someone in your close surroundings, like a good friend or family member.

If you don’t immediately have the courage to tell someone in your direct surroundings, then try to approach someone who is familiar with similar experiences, such as a GP or a student counsellor at your college or university.

Would you prefer to share your story anonymously? You can always call on Awel (102 or awel.be) or Tele-Onthaal (106 or tele-onthaal.be). If you have suicidal thoughts or questions about suicide, contact the Suicide Hotline (1813 or zelfmoord1813.be).

Seek help

You cannot ‘cure’ a manic-depressive disorder, but thankfully it can be treated quite well with psychotherapy and medication. Without treatment, manic periods tend to become more frequent and intense, and persist longer.

Medication can be very helpful to control fierce mood changes, while psychotherapy has shown to help recognise the initial signals of manic-depressive episodes. In this way, you learn to keep triggering situations at bay. You also learn how to influence your mood and deal with the limitations and possibilities of your particular condition.

Worried about a friend?

Have you noticed a friend dealing with mood changes and are you worried? Talk about it and share your concerns. Try to be understanding and to listen without judgement.

Keen to learn, read or hear more about this topic?



  • The app Emoods allows you to track your episodes.

Ted Talks


  • Ups & Downs is an association for people with bipolar disorder or chronic depression, and their surroundings - here you can find information and support. (Ditch)