Bipolar disorder is a mental disorder that causes unusual fluctuations in a person's mood, energy, activity levels, and concentration. These changes can make it difficult to carry out daily tasks. Formerly known as manic depression, individuals with this condition experience two phases: manic and depressive. Their mood swings range from periods of extreme elation, excitement, irritability (in mild manic episodes), or high energy (referred to as manic episodes) to very low, sad, indifferent, or hopeless periods (referred to as depressive episodes).
Episodes of mood swings can occur rarely or multiple times in a year, depending on the individual. While most people will experience some emotional symptoms between episodes, some may not experience any symptoms at all.
Types of Bipolar Disorder
There are several types of bipolar disorder and related disorders, including major depression or mild depression and mania.
Bipolar I Disorder
Defined by episodes of mania lasting at least 7 days (nearly every day and most of the day) or by severe manic symptoms requiring immediate medical care. Depressive episodes typically also occur, usually lasting at least 2 weeks. Mixed episodes (with symptoms of both depression and mania at the same time) can also occur. Experiencing four or more manic or depressive episodes within a year is termed "rapid cycling."
Bipolar II Disorder
Defined by periods of mild depression and hypomania. The episodes of hypomania are less severe than the manic episodes of bipolar I disorder.
Also known as cyclothymia, is a relatively mild mood disorder characterized by repeated mild depressive and hypomanic symptoms that are not severe enough or long-lasting enough to be classified as mild depression or hypomania.
Sometimes, an individual may experience symptoms of bipolar disorder that do not fit into the three types listed above, and these symptoms are referred to as "other specified and unspecified bipolar and related disorders”.
Signs and Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder is often diagnosed in adolescence or early adulthood. Sometimes, bipolar symptoms can appear in children. Although symptoms may vary over time, bipolar disorder often requires lifelong treatment.
Individuals with bipolar disorder experience intense, unusual emotional fluctuations and changes in sleeping patterns as well as levels of activity, along with engaging in abnormal behaviors for them - without recognizing the harmful or undesired effects of these behaviors. These distinct periods are called mood episodes. These episodes are markedly different from the usual mood and behavior of a typical person. During an episode, symptoms persist daily and for most of the day. Episodes can also last for weeks.
Symptoms of the manic phase include:
Feeling extremely elated, optimistic, restless, or excessively sensitive
Feeling highly energetic, active, easily agitated, or prone to anger
Decreased need for sleep
Increased desire for activities like eating, sex, or risky behaviors (excessive shopping, engaging in unsafe sexual behaviors, etc.)
Talking excessively and rapidly about various topics
Having racing thoughts
Being able to do a lot of things at once without feeling tired
Feeling an unusual sense of importance, talent, or power
Symptoms of the depressive phase include:
Low mood, feeling sad, anxious
Slowed-down mood, restless anxiety
Difficulty falling asleep, waking up too early, or sleeping too much
Speaking slower than usual, not knowing what to say, or forgetting many things
Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
Feeling unable to accomplish even simple tasks
Lack of interest in most activities in life
Feeling hopeless, worthless, or having thoughts of death
NOTE: The symptoms mentioned are for reference only. If you suspect you have bipolar disorder, seek help from a mental health professional for an accurate diagnosis.
Sometimes, a person experiences both manic and depressive symptoms within the same period, which is referred to as a mixed features episode. In such a period with mixed features, individuals may feel intensely sad, empty, or hopeless while also feeling full of energy.
A person can have bipolar disorder even if their symptoms are less severe. For instance, some individuals with Bipolar II disorder experience mild hypomanic symptoms. During mild hypomanic episodes, they may feel quite comfortable, able to function at work, and maintain their daily lives. The individual may not feel that anything is wrong, but family and friends may notice unusual mood changes or levels of activity, which could be signs of bipolar disorder. Without proper treatment, individuals with mild hypomanic symptoms may progress to severe mania or depression.