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Quyen Ai Do, Ph.D., LPC
• March 29, 2024

“No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness” – Aristotle

Isaac Newton, Vincent Van Gogh, Winston Churchill, and Ludwig Van Beethoven. These are a few of many important historical figures whose contributions shaped society the way we know it today. But do you know what else these prolific individuals have in common? Biographical records suggest that their lives were touched by a mental health condition known in the modern day as “bipolar disorder.5

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder, historically known as the sacred disease4, is a mood disorder affecting approximately 5.7 million adult Americans annually6. It is characterized by a period of distinct and lasting “elevated, expansive, or irritable mood,” which is present most of the day, nearly every day, for a couple of days to several months if untreated. During this period, a person may show up with at least three of the following symptoms:

  • Feeling intensely euphoric, high, excited, or happy
  • Speaking fast and excessively, which shows racing and disorganized inner thought process
  • Having an inflated sense of self
  • Having excessive energy despite having little to no sleep
  • Appearing tense and jumpy
  • Being easily distracted or agitated
  • Engaging in impulsive and risky behaviors

This period is known as either a manic or a hypomanic episode1, depending on the how long and how severe the symptoms are. In a manic episode, symptoms are often severe enough to significantly disrupt daily living and may require hospitalization. In a hypomanic episode, symptoms typically don’t cause as much functional impairment.

The high states of a manic or hypomanic episode can suddenly shift into the low states of a major depressive episode, which can last from three to six months if untreated. A person during a depressive episode can show up with at least five of the following symptoms:

  • Feeling down, sad, guilty, worthless, pointless, or empty
  • Sleeping too much or too little compared to usual
  • Eating too much or too little compared to usual
  • Having low energy and motivation
  • Losing interest in things or activities
  • Having difficulty focusing or making decisions
  • Having thoughts of self-harm, death, or suicide

Types of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is categorized into the three following common types:

  1. Bipolar I: Experiencing at least one manic episode lasting for at least a week. Note that a Bipolar I diagnosis does not require having experienced a depressive episode.
  2. Bipolar II: Experiencing hypomanic episode(s) lasting for at least four days and major depressive episode(s) lasting for at least two weeks.
  3. Cyclothymia: Experiencing hypomanic and depressive symptoms lasting for several years that are not severe enough to qualify as a full manic or major depressive episode.

Living and Coping with Bipolar Disorder

The biographical records of highly accomplished historical figures with bipolar disorder have long attracted academic interest to investigate the link between the sacred disorder with creativity. Many research findings have provided evidence of the apparent association between bipolar disorder and creative achievements2.

While creativity during manic/hypomanic episodes may have contributed to many famous artworks, individuals living with bipolar disorder often suffer from distress and negative consequences, which can severely affect overall quality of life3. Finding ways to cope with bipolar disorder can unlock creativity within, without compromising one’s daily functioning.

Proper treatment and adaptive choices made on a daily basis can make a significant difference for the better. Some suggestions include:

  • Attending psychotherapy regularly. A few examples of therapeutic treatments for bipolar disorder include cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectic behavioral therapy, and family-focused therapy.   
  • Taking medications. Medical providers typically prescribe mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, and/or antidepressants to help manage bipolar symptoms.
  • Identifying and monitoring the triggers leading to a manic or depressive episode. Some common triggers include major life changes (e.g., divorce, job loss), stressful environments (e.g., large crowds, loud noises), and lack of sleep.   
  • Creating a personalized toolbox to cope with stress on difficult days. These can include simple activities such as listening to music, calling a loved one, taking a walk, drinking less caffeine, and meditating.  
  • Maintaining a healthy routine with consistent mealtime, exercises, and sleep schedules.
  • Preparing a safety plan with known early warning signs (e.g., feeling jumpy, having racing thoughts), actionable items (e.g., deep breathing, contacting loved ones), as well as contact information of professional resources (e.g., crisis hotlines, therapists) for times of crisis.

Recommended Resources

Similar to many long-term health conditions (e.g., asthma, diabetes), being proactive with coping methods can make a big difference in managing symptoms, reducing the impact of difficult mood episodes, and enhancing overall enjoyment of life.

Whether you or a loved one are living with bipolar disorders, I have listed out a few resources that you may find helpful:

Quyen Ai Do, Ph.D., LPC

Postdoctoral Clinical Scholar Fellow

Dr. Quyen Ai Do, Ph.D., LPC (she/her) received her doctorate in Psychology at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Dr. Do has published her extensive research on interpersonal violence, racial/ethnic minority and LGBTQIA+ issues, and the experiences of marginalized communities in the U.S. Dr.

References & Citations


1. American Psychiatric Association. (2022). Bipolar and related disorders. In Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed., text rev.).

2. Johnson, S. L., Murray, G., Fredrickson, B., Youngstrom, E. A., Hinshaw, S., Bass, J. M., ... & Salloum, I. (2012). Creativity and bipolar disorder: touched by fire or burning with questions?. Clinical psychology review, 32(1), 1-12.

3. Jokipii, K. (2022). The timeless relationship between mental illness and creative genius. Painted Brain. Retrieved March 14, 2023, from

4. Marneros, A., & Angst, J. (2000). Bipolar disorders: Roots and evolution. In Bipolar Disorders: 100 years after manic-depressive insanity (pp. 1-35). Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands.

5. National Alliance on Mental Illness. (n.d.). 300 famous individuals with mental health issues, illnesses, and disorders. Retrieved March 14, 2024, from

6. National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Bipolar Disorder. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health. Retrieved March 14, 2024, from

7. Stolyar, A. (2021). The mystery of bipolar disorder. Boston Clinical Trials. Retrieved March 14, 2023, from!/