We all have our ups and downs, but with bipolar disorder, these peaks and valleys are more severe. The symptoms of bipolar disorder can hurt your job and school performance, damage your relationships, and disrupt your daily life. And although it’s treatable, many people don’t recognize the warning signs and get the help they need. Since bipolar disorder tends to worsen without treatment, it’s important to learn what the symptoms look like. Recognizing the problem is the first step to getting better.
What is bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression) causes serious shifts in mood, energy, thinking, and behavior– from the highs of mania on one extreme, to the lows of depression on the other. More than just a fleeting good or bad mood, the cycles of bipolar disorder last for days, weeks, or months. And unlike ordinary mood swings, the mood changes of bipolar disorder are so intense that they interfere with your ability to function.
During a manic episode, a person might impulsively quit a job, charge up huge amounts on credit cards, or feel rested after sleeping two hours. During a depressive episode, the same person might be too tired to get out of bed, and full of self-loathing and hopelessness over being unemployed and in debt.
The first manic or depressive episode of bipolar disorder usually occurs in the teenage years or early adulthood. The symptoms can be subtle and confusing; many people with bipolar disorder are overlooked or misdiagnosed– resulting in unnecessary suffering.
Myths and Facts About Bipolar Disorder
Myth: People with bipolar disorder can’t get better or lead a normal life.
Fact: Many people with bipolar disorder have successful careers, happy family lives, and satisfying relationships. Living with bipolar disorder is challenging, but with treatment, healthy coping skills, and a solid support system, you can live fully while managing your symptoms.
Myth: People with bipolar disorder swing back and forth between mania and depression.
Fact: Some people alternate between extreme episodes of mania and depression, but most are depressed more often than they are manic. Mania may also be so mild that it goes unrecognized. People with bipolar disorder can also go for long stretches without symptoms.
Myth: Bipolar disorder only affects mood.
Fact: Bipolar disorder also affects your energy level, judgment, memory, concentration, appetite, sleep patterns, sex drive, and self-esteem. Additionally, bipolar disorder has been linked to anxiety, substance abuse, and health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, migraines, and high blood pressure.
Myth: Aside from taking medication, there is nothing you can do to control bipolar disorder
Fact: While medication is the foundation of bipolar disorder treatment, therapy and self-help strategies also play important roles. You can help control your symptoms by exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, eating right, monitoring your moods, keeping stress to a minimum, and surrounding yourself with supportive people.
Signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder can look very different in different people. Some people are more prone to either mania or depression, while others alternate equally between the two types of episodes.
There are four types of mood episodes in bipolar disorder: mania, hypomania, depression, and mixed episodes. Each type of bipolar disorder mood episode has a unique set of symptoms.
Signs and symptoms of mania
In the manic phase of bipolar disorder, feelings of heightened energy, creativity, and euphoria are common. People experiencing a manic episode often talk a mile a minute, sleep very little, and are hyperactive. They may also feel like they’re all-powerful, invincible, or destined for greatness.
People often behave recklessly during a manic episode: gambling away savings, engaging in inappropriate sexual activity, or making foolish business investments. Some people even become delusional or start hearing voices.
To others, it may seem as if people with hypomania are merely in an unusually good mood. In addition, hypomania often escalates to full-blown mania or is followed by a major depressive episode.
Common signs and symptoms of mania include:
- Feeling unusually “high” and optimistic OR extremely irritable
- Unrealistic, grandiose beliefs about one’s abilities or powers
- Sleeping very little, but feeling extremely energetic
- Talking so rapidly that others can’t keep up
- Racing thoughts; jumping quickly from one idea to the next
- Highly distractible, unable to concentrate
- Impaired judgment and impulsiveness
- Acting recklessly without thinking about the consequences
- Delusions and hallucinations (in severe cases).
- Signs and symptoms of bipolar depression.
In the past, bipolar depression was lumped in with regular depression, but a growing body of research suggests that there are significant differences between the two, especially when it comes to recommended treatments. Most people with bipolar depression are not helped by antidepressants. There is a risk that antidepressants can make bipolar disorder worse– triggering mania or hypomania, causing rapid cycling between mood states, or interfering with other mood stabilizing drugs.
Despite many similarities, certain symptoms are more common in bipolar depression than in regular depression. Bipolar depression is more likely to involve irritability, guilt, unpredictable mood swings, and feelings of restlessness. People with bipolar depression also tend to move and speak slowly, sleep a lot, and gain weight. In addition, they are more likely to develop psychotic depression– a condition in which they’ve lost contact with reality– and to experience major disability in work and social functioning.
Common symptoms of bipolar depression include:.
- Feeling hopeless, sad, or empty.
- Inability to experience pleasure.
- Fatigue or loss of energy.
- Physical and mental sluggishness loss Appetite or weight changes.
- Sleep problems.
- Concentration and memory problems.
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt.
- Thoughts of death or suicide.
Signs and symptoms of a mixed episode.
A mixed episode of bipolar disorder features symptoms of both mania or hypomania and depression. Common signs of a mixed episode include depression combined with agitation, irritability, anxiety, insomnia, distractibility, and racing thoughts. This combination of high energy and low mood makes for a particularly high risk of suicide.
The different faces of bipolar disorder.
- Bipolar I Disorder (mania or a mixed episode)– This is the classic manic-depressive form of the illness, characterized by at least one manic episode or mixed episode. Usually– but not always– Bipolar I Disorder also involves at least one episode of depression.
- Bipolar II Disorder (hypomania and depression)– In Bipolar II disorder, the person doesn’t experience full-blown manic episodes. Instead, the illness involves episodes of hypomania and severe depression.
- Cyclothymia (hypomania and mild depression)– Cyclothymia is a milder form of bipolar disorder that consists of cyclical mood swings. The symptoms are less severe than full-blown mania or depression.
The symptoms of bipolar disorder can hurt your job and school performance, damage your relationships, and disrupt your daily life. Bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression) causes serious shifts in mood, energy, thinking, and behavior– from the highs of mania on one extreme, to the lows of depression on the other. The symptoms can be subtle and confusing; many people with bipolar disorder are overlooked or misdiagnosed– resulting in unnecessary suffering. People with bipolar disorder can also go for long stretches without symptoms.
A mixed episode of bipolar disorder features symptoms of both mania or hypomania and depression.