Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes dramatic changes in behavior. Your mood, energy level and activities may be impacted. It also can make it hard to function normally in daily life. If you or a loved one has bipolar symptoms, it is important to educate yourself and get a diagnosis immediately.

Many years ago, people referred to bipolar disorder as manic depression and considered it a one-size-fits-all label. But mental health professionals have fine-tuned their understanding of this brain disorder and now believe it takes several pathways. Bipolar manifests as three distinct conditions. The symptoms of bipolar disorder may be similar in each case but the severity is different. The types of bipolar are:

  • Bipolar I disorder
  • Bipolar II disorder
  • Cyclothymic disorder, or cyclothymia

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

If you have bipolar disorder, you cycle through episodes of bipolar depression and manic or hypomanic episodes. Some people experience either depression or mania for a period of time. Other people go through highs and lows all day long. People with any type of bipolar disorder tend to experience two primary symptoms, manic and depressive mental states. The following bipolar disorder symptoms may occur more intensely in people with bipolar I.

Signs and Symptoms of Bipolar I

Depression. Depressive episodes are often severe enough to also qualify as major depressive disorder but it would not be treated with the same prescription medications. Symptoms of depression include:

  • Feeling sad and hopeless
  • Anhedonia, or loss of interest in things you used to find rewarding
  • Severe lack of energy or desire to do anything
  • Sleeping a lot or inability to sleep
  • Unable to think with a clear head
  • Lack of motivation or feeling sluggish
  • Loss of appetite or increase in stress eating
  • Worthlessness, or never feeling good about yourself
  • Shame and guilt
  • Suicidal thinking or attempts

Mania. This is the flip side to depression. Mania disturbs normal functioning and sets a person on a path of extreme behavior. It can lead to psychosis or extreme detachment from reality in the form of delusional thinking or hallucinations. Symptoms of mania include:

  • Thought patterns that are rapid
  • Fast, uncontrollable speaking
  • Lack of rational thought process
  • False sense of well-being
  • Severe sleep pattern change/less need for sleep
  • High or overblown self-worth
  • Extreme focus on goals to achieve, usually quickly
  • Intense distraction and attention easily pulled
  • Increase in risky behaviors, such as overspending, overeating and risky sex

In bipolar disorder I, the depressive episode lasts at least seven days. Symptoms of mania can continue for two weeks at a time. During manic episodes a person will spend, eat, clean, engage in sex, or use drugs or alcohol excessively as symptoms of bipolar disorder. Some people try to reach goals. Some people have mixed features, which is feeling mania or depression at close intervals or at the same time. People in this group may experience these symptoms only once every few years. But they are also prone to rapid cycling, which leads them to have four or five of these kinds of episodes each year.

Signs and Symptoms of Bipolar II

Bipolar disorder II shares many of the signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder I. But bipolar II is typically seen as a different pattern of depressive episodes as well as hypomanic episodes. It is experienced through:

  • An increase in activity
  • Less need for sleep
  • Racing thoughts
  • An elevated mood
  • Feelings of grandiosity

But these are not as intense as the symptoms of mania experienced in bipolar disorder I. People become depressed and suffer from emotional pain, fear and suicidal thinking, but these feelings are not as intense as the symptoms of bipolar disorder I.


Cyclothymic disorder (or cyclothymia) features a less intense set of signs and symptoms than bipolar II. These symptoms of bipolar disorder are not as disturbing and life-threatening as bipolar I. People experience mood swings that vacillate between depression and hypomania. But this type of mania or depression is not as disruptive as the other two forms of bipolar disorder.

Causes of Bipolar Disorder

Research cannot pinpoint one particular cause, but it has suggested several possible causes of bipolar disorder.

  • Genetics. People can be genetically predisposed to developing bipolar disorder. Studies show that the chances of having this brain disorder increase if your parents or siblings have a diagnosis of bipolar.
  • Trauma. Early trauma is also a suspected contributor to many forms of mental illness. Abuse, abandonment, witnessing violence, or substance abuse in the home can lead to an unhealthy environment growing up. This can lead to:
  • Stress. Anxiety disorders are common co-occurring conditions in people with bipolar disorder. It is believed traumatic or stressful events can trigger bipolar symptoms. Usually these are events that throw a person off balance, such as loss of a loved one, illness, divorce, job loss or financial distress. Stress can trigger symptoms of mania as well as a depressive episode.
  • Brain Structure/Function. The structure of the brain and the way the brain functions can contribute to this brain disorder.

Diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder

  • Bipolar I disorder. This mental health disorder is diagnosed if there has been one manic episode, followed or preceded by hypomanic or major depressive episodes. Mental health professionals also look for psychosis, or a break in reality.
  • Bipolar II disorder. This condition is diagnosed if there has been one major depressive episode and one or more hypomanic episodes. Manic episodes are absent.
  • Cyclothymic disorder. This form of bipolar is diagnosed if there have been two years or more of different periods of hypomania symptoms and depressive symptoms. The symptoms are not as intense as they are in major depression.

Get Help for Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

It is essential for a person with bipolar to get the correct diagnosis and treatment. It is especially dangerous if a person with bipolar also has a substance abuse issue. Reach out for help from experts who know how to treat all types of bipolar disorders as well and mental health and substance abuse.

Krisi Herron

Medically Reviewed by

Krisi Herron, LCDC

Choose a better life. Choose recovery.