Bipolar disorder is a mental illness marked by extreme shifts in mood, energy, and activity levels. These shifts in mood can be so severe that they interfere with a person’s ability to function or live a normal life.
Although bipolar disorder is mainly associated with manic episodes – characterized by abnormally high energy levels, elevated mood, and inflated self-esteem – the condition can also lead to periods of severe depression (depressive episodes).
In fact, bipolar disorder is frequently misdiagnosed as depression because the low phases are more easily recognizable.
Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
Symptoms of bipolar disorder will vary depending on the type of episode and can range from mild to severe or debilitating.
Generally, manic episodes are characterized by a noticeably elevated mood, increased energy levels, racing thoughts and speech, agitation or irritability, risk-taking behaviors (including drugs or alcohol abuse), decreased need for sleep, changes in appetite, and poor judgment.
Depressive episodes, on the other hand, involve feelings of persistent low mood, hopelessness, worthlessness, lethargy, loss of interest in activities, social isolation, change in appetite, sleeping problems, negative outlook on life, and suicidal ideation or thoughts of self-harm.
Most people with bipolar disorder will experience a period of normal mood between manic and depressive episodes.
Types of Bipolar Disorder
There are several different types of bipolar disorder, each with its own unique set of symptoms:
Bipolar I Disorder
Bipolar I disorder is characterized by manic episodes that last for at least seven days (or manic symptoms that are severe enough to need hospitalization). These episodes are usually followed by periods of major depression that last two weeks or longer. In between these episodes, it’s not unusual for people with bipolar I disorder to experience brief periods of hypomania (mild manic episodes)
Bipolar II Disorder
Bipolar II disorder is similar to bipolar I disorder, except that the manic episodes are milder (hypomania). Hypomanic episodes are similar to manic episodes – but not as severe and do not last as long. Nevertheless, they can still be disruptive to everyday life. People with bipolar II disorder will experience episodes of major depression and at least one hypomanic episode in their lifetime.
Cyclothymic Disorder (or Cyclothymia)
Cyclothymic disorder is a milder form of bipolar disorder that is characterized by shorter and less severe mood swings. People with cyclothymic disorder will experience both hypomanic and depressive symptoms, but they will never reach full-blown manic or depressive episodes seen in bipolar I disorder.
Bipolar Disorder with Mixed Features
Previously known as mixed affective disorder, bipolar disorder with mixed features is a form of bipolar disorder that is characterized by symptoms of both mania and depression that occur at the same time or in quick succession with no periods of normal mood in between. MAD is usually difficult to diagnose because it can often be mistaken for other mental health conditions, such as borderline personality disorder or schizophrenia.
Other Specified and Unspecified Bipolar and Related Disorders
Other specified and unspecified bipolar and related disorders are conditions that have similar characteristics to the aforementioned types of bipolar disorder – but their symptoms don’t meet the full criteria for diagnosis. They can include rapid cycling (four or more episodes in one year), hyperthymic disorder (persistently elevated moods), or bipolar not otherwise specified (NOS).
No matter what type of bipolar disorder you have, it is important to remember that with the right treatment and support, people with bipolar disorder can lead normal and productive lives.
If you think you might or someone close to you might have bipolar disorder, it’s advisable to seek professional help right away. A trained mental health professional will make a conclusive diagnosis and create a treatment plan tailored to your needs.