Bipolar Disorder: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition characterized by extreme shifts in one’s mood. Also known as bipolar disease or manic depression, this mental illness involves alternating periods of mania and depression. People who struggle with this condition might have a hard time maintaining relationships, keeping up with daily tasks and responsibilities, and successfully managing their symptoms without treatment.


Like most other mental illnesses, there is no cure for bipolar disorder, but there is treatment available that consists of behavioral therapy and medications that can help reduce the symptoms. With the proper treatment, afflicted individuals can overcome their condition and live a healthier life.


Causes and Risk Factors

Approximately 2.8% of American adults have been diagnosed with the condition.[1] This comes out to nearly 5 million people who battle this illness on a daily basis. Despite how common bipolar disorder is, the exact causes and risk factors of the condition are unknown.


The Mayo Clinic explains that the two main factors that may contribute to a person’s likelihood of developing the condition include genetics and biological differences. For example, studies have shown that people with bipolar disorder have physical changes in their brains that may contribute to their condition. Furthermore, researchers are trying to discover which genes cause the disorder because people are more likely to suffer from it if a first-degree relative also has the condition.[2]


Other risk factors, such as experiencing high levels of stress, suffering a trauma, or engaging in drug or alcohol abuse, can increase a person’s risk. On the other hand, people who have co-occurring disorders, like addiction, anxiety, or physical health problems, are more likely to experience more severe symptoms and intense episodes compared to others.


Signs and Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is broken into three types: bipolar I disorder, bipolar II disorder, and cyclothymic disorder. Although each category consists of changes in energy and mood, each type varies from the next.[2][3]


Bipolar I Disorder

Bipolar I disorder is characterized by manic episodes that last for at least one week at a time or episodes where the symptoms are so severe that people require hospitalization. These individuals also experience depressive episodes that last at least 2 weeks. However, some depressive episodes will consist of both depressive and manic symptoms simultaneously. Some manic episodes may result in psychosis.

Bipolar II Disorder

Bipolar II disorder is defined by both depressive episodes and manic episodes of lesser intensity than those experienced among people with bipolar I disorder. These less severe manic episodes are known as hypomanic episodes. Still, bipolar II disorder is no less severe than the first type, as people with bipolar II disorder experience long depressive episodes that can trigger unhealthy coping mechanisms, substance abuse, and significant impairment in their day to day life.

Cyclothymic Disorder (Cyclothymia)

Cyclothymic disorder, or Cyclothymia, is another form of the disorder that consists of hypomanic symptoms and depressive symptoms that last for at least 2 years in adults and 1 year in children or adolescents. These individuals do not meet the criteria of “manic episodes” or “depressive episodes” as their symptoms are less severe.

Symptoms of Mania and Hypomania

Manic episodes are different from hypomanic episodes, but the two have similar symptoms. The primary difference is that hypomanic episodes may not cause as many noticeable problems in one’s personal life and they don’t trigger psychosis. Manic and hypomanic episodes include at least three of the following symptoms:

  • Increased energy
  • Acting jumpy, overly upbeat, or abnormally talkative
  • Lack of sleep
  • Racing thoughts and anxiety
  • Easily distracted
  • Poor decision-making skills
  • Euphoria

Symptoms of Depressive Episodes

Depression is different than depressive episodes. Depressive episodes consist of symptoms that cause significant effects on one’s life – including school, work, social obligations, and relationships. Depressive episodes consist of at least five of the following symptoms:

  • Feeling sad, hopeless, or empty
  • Losing interest in activities
  • Weight loss/weight gain
  • Sleeping too much/not being able to sleep
  • Fatigue
  • Inability to make decisions
  • Feeling guilty or worthless
  • Suicidal thoughts


After understanding the devastating symptoms of this condition, it’s easy to see why it’s so important that people who are suffering have access to the mental health treatment they need. If you’ve experienced these symptoms and think that this sounds like you, it might be a good idea to contact a professional who can help you manage your symptoms.


Treatment for Bipolar Disorder

The most effective form of treatment uses a combination of psychotherapy and medications. Since this is a life-long diagnosis, medications and therapy can help reduce these symptoms and make them easier to manage.


The medications used to treat bipolar disorder consist of mood stabilizers and second-generation antipsychotics. Furthermore, some people will take antidepressants and mood stabilizers to treat depressive episodes while preventing manic episodes. Unfortunately, everyone is different, so some people have to try several different medications and prescription combinations to find what works best for them. Remember, these medications must be taken on a consistent basis, so it’s important to consult with your healthcare provider before stopping your medication – even if you’re feeling healthy. After all, suddenly stopping a mood stabilizer can lead to rebound effects – where the symptoms become far worse than before.


In addition to medications, psychotherapy, or “talk therapy,” is used to help patients identify their emotions and problematic behaviors so they can begin to make healthier decisions. This treatment will provide people with coping skills to get through their depressive and manic episodes to make their illness more manageable.


Living with any mental health condition isn’t easy. In fact, it can feel really hopeless at times. Fortunately, there is help available that will listen with compassion and show you that your condition isn’t the end of the road. If you or a loved one is suffering from bipolar disorder, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Contact us today to see what we can do for you.




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