Bipolar Articles

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If you know someone living with bipolar disorder, learn ways to help navigate mood swings.

No one feels the same from day to day or even hour to hour, but the shifts in mood and energy caused by bipolar disorder can have a significant impact on a person's ability to function. The following articles can help inform you about what bipolar disorder is, what can cause it, and what you can do about it.

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Medically Reviewed by Aaron Horn, LMFT, MA 

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder is a mental illness that is characterized by episodes of depression and mania and hypomania. These episodes vary in length depending on the type of Bipolar Disorder that a person has. The extreme shifts in mood and energy levels can contribute to suicidal ideation or suicidal actions, whether those are passive or active. 

Bipolar Disorder is most frequently treated with a combination of therapy and medication. It can be genetic, and it affects people’s jobs, relationships, and quality of life. However, there is strong evidence that with treatment (such as talk therapy and certain medications), people with bipolar disorder can enjoy full lives. That includes strong relationships, a satisfying job, and having meaningful social connections. Below we will discuss symptoms, causes, and treatment options for bipolar disorder. If you believe that you have these symptoms, please consult a medical professional immediately.

Types of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder Type 1 (Bipolar I Disorder) is differentiated from Bipolar Type 2 (Bipolar II Disorder) by establishing that a person has experienced at least one full-on manic episode during their life. Despite the criteria stating that only one manic episode must occur, a person with Bipolar Disorder Type 1 will often experience more than that. People with Bipolar Type 1 typically develop the condition during their late teen years or early adulthood, but some people see symptoms of the disease develop as early as childhood. 

When viewed in children, it is referred to as a pediatric Bipolar disorder. Children can’t necessarily put a name to their feelings when they have Bipolar disorder. They don’t fully comprehend what mania is, but as they grow up, they will begin to understand their experiences better. Approximately 2.5% of the United States population lives with Bipolar Disorder, which is about six million individuals. Since it is relatively common, it is worth understanding the symptoms so that you can recognize them in yourself or the people around you:

Symptoms of Mania

  • Pressured speech or speaking loudly
  • Going from one idea to the next rapidly
  • Increased energy
  • Inability to slow down
  • Decreased need for sleep or insomnia
  • Grandiosity or inflated self-perception
  • Compulsive or excessive spending
  • Hypersexuality
  • Impulsivity
  • Substance abuse

During a manic episode, a person may spend excessive amounts of money, engage in promiscuous behavior, and appear narcissistic. A manic episode can last for a couple of weeks or a couple of months. The symptoms of this illness vary regarding length and severity. Most if not all people with Bipolar Disorder have periods where they are asymptomatic, meaning that they aren’t experiencing symptoms. If left untreated, however, mania or mixed episodes can result in death by suicide, so it is essential that an individual with Bipolar Disorder receives treatment.

Symptoms of Depression

  • Low energy
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Thoughts of suicide or self-harm
  • Changes in eating
  • Social isolation
  • Slow speech
  • Actively planning a suicide attempt*

*If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline immediately, at 1-800-273-8255. The hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

Bipolar Disorder Type 2

As stated previously, Bipolar II Disorder is different from Bipolar I Disorder. Bipolar II Disorder can be challenging to diagnose because it is characterized mainly by depressive symptoms. Many people with Bipolar Disorder Type 2 get misdiagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) when they first seek help. It can take years for the correct diagnosis to be made. Sometimes, a person can go their entire life without a proper diagnosis.

When a person with Bipolar II Disorder gets the proper diagnosis, it can be life-changing because they can receive the correct interventions. Bipolar Disorder Type 2 differs from MDD because a person with Bipolar II Disorder will experience hypomania, which is a less intense form of mania. Hypomania certainly differs from mania, but it can still be disruptive. 

If hypomania is left untreated, however, you can swing into full-blown mania, which is why it is crucial to treat the illness accordingly. Hypomania includes the following symptoms:

  • Increased energy
  • Less need for sleep
  • Pressured speech
  • Hypersexuality
  • Inflated self-esteem
  • Increased productivity

The difference between mania and hypomania is that, while you may experience increased energy levels, it is not as extreme as what you’d suffer from mania. Hypomania tends to last around a week, while mania can last anywhere from a few weeks to months at a time.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

What is a person with bipolar like?

People with bipolar disorder have periods of normalcy coupled with periods of elation and depression. Adults with bipolar disorder can carry on normal lives by learning to manage their condition with a combination of bipolar medications, psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes. 

What triggers bipolar?

Many factors can trigger symptoms of bipolar disorder. These factors include a genetic predisposition to mental health issues, environmental factors, and health factors (including chemical imbalances). Symptoms of bipolar disorder can be triggered by any or all of these factors. This is one of the reasons living with bipolar can feel confusing for people with bipolar disorder and their families. 

What are the 4 types of bipolar?

According to the National Institute for Mental Health, there are three types of bipolar disorder. There is also potentially a fourth bipolar disorder explained below. The three types of bipolar disorder include -- bipolar I disorder, bipolar II disorder, and cyclothymic disorder. The fourth type is bipolar disorder induced by environment or substance use disorders. 

Can a bipolar person become violent?

According to mental health researchers and medical professionals, people with bipolar disorder are more likely to commit suicide than to hurt someone else. Due to the nature of bipolar disorder symptoms - while people with bipolar disorder do commit violent acts, they are less likely to commit them against another person. 

As mentioned above, if you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, seek immediate help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at 1-800-273-8255.

Should you argue with a bipolar person?

Aggressiveness is one of the many symptoms of bipolar disorder. Keeping this in mind, it’s almost pointless to argue with someone diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The aggression that people with bipolar disorder display -- is often a result of bipolar disorder symptoms and shouldn’t be perceived as a personal attack. 

How are you tested for bipolar?

People with bipolar disorder are often given psychological and medical tests when they start to display signs of bipolar disorder. Depending on the type of bipolar symptoms present, a medical or mental health professional will diagnose bipolar disorder as bipolar I disorder or one of the other three categories of mental illnesses that involve bipolar episodes. There are different approaches for treating bipolar disorder based on the type you have been diagnosed with. 

Can a bipolar person truly love?

People with bipolar disorder, bipolar depression, and related disorders can have fulfilling and productive relationships. This includes loving family relationships and intimate relationships with partners who understand their special needs. Bipolar disorder can be treated with medication, psychotherapy, and healthy lifestyle changes. If left untreated, bipolar disorder can make it difficult for people to maintain close relationships. 

What is the difference between bipolar 1 and 2?

There are a few distinctions between bipolar and related disorders recognized by mental health professionals. Bipolar disorder, formerly called “manic depression” has more than one form. People diagnosed with bipolar disorder I or II are suffering from different forms of bipolar disorder experience. Bipolar symptoms for people with bipolar I alternate between periods of depression and elation. People with bipolar II disorder will experience longer periods of depression than people with bipolar I. 

What is the definition of a bipolar person?

People with bipolar disorder often struggle with the stigma of coping with bipolar disorder. Many people who develop bipolar disorder are considered “violent,” “aggressive,” or “unruly.” In fact, researchers have learned by studying the disorder that adults with bipolar disorder are more prone to self-harm than harm towards others. 

How do you help a person with bipolar?

You should always seek professional advice from an expert trained in the treatment bipolar disorder. Trying to help a person with bipolar disorder without the help of a licensed professional is a difficult task. It can cause more harm than good.  

The licensed therapists at BetterHelp are experts at talking to people with bipolar disorder and the ones who love them. Learn to recognize bipolar symptoms present in bipolar and related disorders by talking to a therapist today. 

Can you be slightly bipolar?

There is a mild form of the disorder called a cyclothymic disorder. This diagnosis is given to people who have mood swings that aren’t as intense or debilitating. Symptoms in this milder form of the disorder are not as severe as for those who develop bipolar I or bipolar II. People with bipolar disorder can be diagnosed with various forms of the disorder based on their symptoms. 

Why do bipolar people get so angry?

People with bipolar disorder may become angry or irritable due to them experiencing aggravated symptoms of the disorder. Symptoms like aggression and irritability are common in people with bipolar disorder. These symptoms can be treated with medication and therapy. Left untreated bipolar symptoms will likely worsen. 

Is there anything you should not say to a person with bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder in adults (and bipolar disorder in children) can result in many verbal miscommunications due to the fact that people with bipolar disorder suffer from rapidly changing mood-shifts. Therapists who diagnose bipolar disorder can teach communication strategies for communicating more effectively with people with bipolar disorder. 

Is bipolar inherited from mother or father?

Medical professionals who treat and diagnose bipolar disorder report that there is an increase of frequency in children if one or both parents has a diagnosis of a cyclothymic disorder, bipolar I disorder or bipolar II disorder. As it relates to parental information on bipolar disorder -- whether the parent is male or female has little to do with passing on the bipolar disorder. 

Is Bipolar 1 or 2 more severe?

People with bipolar disorder may have different forms of the disorder. The main differences in bipolar I disorder vs. bipolar II disorder are the intensity of the manic and depressive phases. People with Bipolar I tend to have more intense and longer lasting manic phases. These phases are marked by a heightened emotional state. If not treated correctly, they can result in the loss of trust and vulnerability in your relationships.

What is the best medication for bipolar 1?

There are a few medications medical that doctors and psychiatrists can use to treat bipolar disorder. The medications will vary depending on the type and severity of symptoms. Your doctor may also alter the medications based on how well it is tolerated. Generally, mood-stabilizing medications are used to treat bipolar disorder. Only a licensed physician can prescribe the correct medication for you.

What are the symptoms of bipolar 1 and 2?

Symptoms of bipolar I disorder include periods of highs-and-lows called mania and depression. During these periods, people with bipolar I experience extreme mood-shifts based on euphoric or depressive symptoms. People with bipolar II disorder are more prone to experiencing the extreme depressive lows associated with bipolar disorder. 

Are bipolar people manipulative?

It can appear that people with bipolar disorder are manipulative. This is partially due to their ever-changing moods and emotions. A person with bipolar disorder may appear to manipulate the people around them based on their current manic or depressive state. However, there is no evidence that people with bipolar are more manipulative than the general public.

Are bipolar patients intelligent?

People with bipolar disorder are often highly intelligent. The issues they have are with mood regulation and not cognitive ability. Because of their high levels of intelligence, it can often be difficult to spot someone with bipolar disorder. People often develop behaviors and skills to attempt to mitigate their symptoms.  Sometimes they are effective and sometimes they are not.  

Should I marry someone with bipolar disorder?

If you are thinking about marrying someone with bipolar disorder, look at the situation objectively. Marrying someone with bipolar disorder is a difficult question (in general, marriage to anyone is a difficult question). Marriage means helping your partner with their everyday challenges, needs, and mood swings, whether they have bipolar disorder or not. People who marry someone with bipolar disorder should make a strong commitment to psychotherapy and (potentially) medication management as a part of their everyday lives. 

What age are you diagnosed with bipolar?

People can be diagnosed with bipolar disorder at any age. If someone starts to exhibit the symptoms of bipolar disorder, it’s important to seek medical advice from a primary care physician or a licensed therapist who can help. 

Is bipolar a disability?

Depending on the severity of the condition, bipolar disorder can be considered a disability. If someone suffering from bipolar disorder is deemed unable to perform their normal everyday tasks -- they are considered to have a disability.

Can you self diagnose bipolar?

While you can do your research to compare what you’ve been feeling to bipolar symptoms, it’s inadvisable to try to diagnose bipolar disorder on your own. Many times people label themselves or others as being “bipolar.” You should always seek the support of a licensed medical provider or therapist for an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment for bipolar disorder.

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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