Symptoms of mental health conditions often vary somewhat from person to person. However, in order for a clinical diagnosis to be considered, an individual typically must meet a few key criteria—usually as outlined in the DSM. When it comes to the various types of bipolar disorder—bipolar 1 disorder, bipolar 2 disorder, cyclothymia, or bipolar disorder NOS—depressive and hypomanic or manic episodes are virtually always present. Read on to learn more about what characterizes these episodes so you can recognize them and seek professional support if they ever occur in yourself or a loved one.
What Is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is an umbrella term that encompasses all four of the subtypes mentioned above. The symptoms for each tend to be similar but usually vary in severity from one to another. For example, bipolar I is usually characterized by manic episodes that last a week or more and may require hospitalization in some cases, whereas the episodes experienced by someone with bipolar II are usually far less severe. Movements like World Bipolar Day aim to promote awareness of this mental illness and the available treatments.
Eight Common Symptoms Of Bipolar Disorder
Although it’s not uncommon for other mental health conditions to manifest simultaneously in someone who already has bipolar disorder—a term known as comorbidity—bipolar is its own unique, separate illness. Properly distinguishing it from others can be important, as this allows for appropriate treatment and management. That’s why getting familiar with the key symptoms of bipolar disorders in general—that is, what characterizes manic and depressive episodes—can be helpful. See below for four key symptoms of each type of episode.
Symptoms Of A Manic Episode In Bipolar Disorder
A manic episode in bipolar disorder is a period in which an individual experiences a greatly heightened mood, usually along with other symptoms as outlined below. Manic episodes can last for a few days, a week, or longer, depending on the type of bipolar disorder a person has. Symptoms of bipolar disorder mania can include:
- An increase in energy. Manic episodes are perhaps most easily identifiable through the spike in energy they usually cause. This can manifest in several different ways, including simple energy changes (feeling more awake or energized), or rapid, out-of-control thoughts and behaviors not unlike those produced by an adrenaline rush.
- A decreased need/desire for sleep. During manic episodes, people often feel as though they do not need as much sleep as normal. This decreased need can result in their functioning at what seems to be an optimal level after only a few hours of sleep. In severe cases, a person may stop sleeping entirely during this period.
- Impulsive behavior. This type of behavior may increase during manic episodes of bipolar disorder. It’s not necessarily always problematic, but it does have the potential to lead to dangerous or high-consequence decisions like engaging in reckless spending, risky sexual behaviors, criminal activity, and more.
- Racing thoughts, heart rate, and speech patterns. During manic episodes, people with bipolar disorder may feel as though their thoughts are moving incredibly quickly and are difficult to stop or sort through. An individual’s heart rate might be similarly elevated, a combination that can lead to unusual speech patterns as well—such as speaking extremely quickly, jumping from topic to topic, or no longer making sense.
Symptoms Of A Depressive Episode In Bipolar Disorder
A bipolar disorder depressive episode is essentially the opposite of a manic episode. It’s generally characterized by a prolonged period of sadness, disinterest, and/or low energy. Depressive episodes often last longer than manic episodes—typically between one and three weeks, though in cyclothymic disorder and bipolar II disorder, they can last even longer. Common symptoms include:
Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. Depression—both major depressive disorder and depressive episodes in bipolar disorder—can often be recognized by the symptom of apathy, which can manifest as a loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed. This loss of interest can also translate to everyday tasks, potentially making even things like getting out of bed and preparing food difficult.
Insomnia and/or loss of energy (but not a decreased need for sleep). A depressive episode can result in an increased need for sleep, but a decreased ability to sleep. This can lead to a significant loss of energy and an even more depressed mood.
Feelings of guilt. People a depressive episode might experience intense and overwhelming feelings of guilt or low self-worth, which can be further compounded by the presence of other bipolar disorder symptoms that make daily functioning difficult. This could also lead to a tendency toward social isolation, which may compound symptoms even further.
Extreme sadness. The depressive episodes of bipolar disorder can result in feelings of extreme sadness, numbness, and overwhelm. Each of these can, in turn, intensify the other symptoms of the disorder.
Learning how to recognize and then manage these core symptoms is usually a key part of bipolar disorder treatment. This process may take time, since the right treatment methods can vary somewhat from person to person, but it is entirely possible for an individual with bipolar disorder to live a stable, fulfilling, autonomous life.
Treatment For Bipolar Disorder
Cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal and social rhythm therapy, and other options may help an individual learn to manage symptoms. In many cases, medications like antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and antipsychotics can also help lessen the frequency and severity of symptoms. Reaching out to a qualified healthcare professional for evaluation is typically the first step if you feel you may be experiencing symptoms of a mental illness like bipolar disorder.
Online Therapy For Bipolar Disorder
If you’ve been advised by a doctor or psychiatrist to seek therapy to help manage symptoms of bipolar disorder, you can usually choose between in person and online sessions. For those who find traveling to and from in-person appointments to be inconvenient, difficult, or impossible, online therapy is another option to consider. Research suggests that online therapy can be effective in helping those with bipolar disorder manage their symptoms, so this format may be worth considering if it’s more convenient for you. With a platform like BetterHelp, you can meet with a licensed therapist via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging from the comfort of home, if you prefer these to the in-office session format.
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