Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder (formerly called manic-depressive illness or manic depression) is a chronic mental health condition, which results in strong changes in mood and energy levels. It is a complex disorder that occurs commonly within families, and typically results from a combination of genetic and environmental influences. Approximately 1 in 50 Australians (1.8%) will experience bipolar disorder during their lifetime.1

There are three types of bipolar disorder (Bipolar I Disorder, Bipolar II Disorder and Cyclothymic Disorder). All three types involve strong changes in mood, energy, and activity levels. These moods range from periods of extremely ‘up’, elated, irritable, or energized behavior (known as manic episodes) to very ‘down’, sad, indifferent, or hopeless periods (known as depressive episodes).

While the exact causes of bipolar disorder are unknown, factors believed to play a role in the development of bipolar disorder, and its onset include:

  • genetic factors, which account for approximately 70% of the risk
  • abnormal neurotransmitter chemistry in the brain
  • environmental factors, including stressful life events and seasonal factors
  • certain medications and certain illicit substances

People living with bipolar disorder may also have a higher risk of additional health issues, including alcohol and drug abuse, anxiety, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and suicide. Bipolar disorder requires long-term management.1

Bipolar disorder is the 9th leading contributor to the burden of disease and injury in Australia among females aged 15-24 years, and the 10th leading contributor for males of the same age.2 Australian research has shown that from the average age of symptom onset (17.5 years), there was a delay of approximately 12.5 years before a diagnosis of bipolar disorder was made.3 While a number of treatments are available, these treatments do not work for everyone, they don’t necessarily address all aspects of the disorder and can have side effects. Because of this, we continue to work on identifying risk factors that influence bipolar disorder with the aim of better understanding the disorder and identifying potential treatment targets.


  • understanding the experiences of individuals living with bipolar disorder
  • identifying genetic and environmental risk factors that influence bipolar disorder
  • genetic risk factors associated with differences between people in both risk of bipolar disorder and response to treatment; we hope that this research will help us learn more about this disorder, and the factors influencing why various treatments for bipolar disorder are successful for some people and not for others. We are actively recruiting participants, go to



  1. Black Dog Institute. Clinical Resources; Bipolar Disorder; What is Bipolar Disorder. Available at: [last accessed July, 2018].
  2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2011. Young Australians: their health and wellbeing 2011. Cat. no. PHE 140 Canberra: AIHW.
  3. Berk, M., Dodd, S., Callaly, P., Berk, L., Fitzgerald, P., de Castella, A.R., & Kulkarni, J. (2007). History of illness prior to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder. Journal of Affective Disorders, 103(1-3), 181-186.