What Is Bipolar Disorder?
This complex mental condition comes in various forms. These are the most common:
- Bipolar I is the classic type, which used to be called manic depression. Those who have this type typically alternate between full-blown mania and depression, which causes severe behavioral shifts. In some, those symptoms occur concurrently.
- Occasionally, the mania or depression is so severe that it becomes psychosis — a break with reality characterized by delusions or hallucinations.
- Bipolar II is the less extreme, more common version of the disorder. Depressive episodes alternate with hypomania, a milder version of mania. People with hypomania are sometimes highly productive and function well.
- But hypomania inevitably leads to depression. And if left untreated, symptoms may grow more extreme, evolving into bipolar I.
Once diagnosed, bipolar disorder is often treatable with medications and psychotherapy. But warning signs of bipolar disorder are often confused with major depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), drug-induced highs, or just plain moodiness. Recognizing the mania and depression signs of bipolar disorder is the first step to getting help. Here’s what to look for:
6 Warning Signs of Mania
1. Unusually upbeat, outgoing, or irritable mood
During a manic phase, some people feel euphoric, others talk nonstop and some develop a hair-trigger temper. The key is that their mood is a radical departure from the norm.
2. Racing thoughts and speed-talking
Besides speaking quickly and jumping between ideas, a person in a manic phase may also be easily distracted — one reason mania is sometimes mistaken for ADHD.
3. Boundless energy
The extremely energetic behavior common in the manic phase often leads to rushing around and taking on new projects, however ill-advised. If the sufferer is also easily distracted, he’ll jump to new tasks before completion.
4. Impulsive and self-destructive behavior
Spending sprees, flagrant affairs or risky investments can all signal bipolar disorder if they’re out of character and part of a larger pattern of symptoms.
5. Decreased need for sleep
Sleeping only a few hours a night could be a sign of bipolar disorder – as well as depression or anxiety. How do you know the difference? People with insomnia typically feel very tired during the day. Someone in a manic episode may never feel exhausted.
6. Inflated sense of self-worth
An exaggerated sense of your power, knowledge, or importance is common in the manic stage, such as believing you have a special relationship with God. It’s a feeling of being invincible and doing no wrong.
4 Warning Signs of Depression
1. Sad, empty, or hopeless mood
Many people with bipolar disorder spend most of the time depressed. This relentless dark mood prevents them from taking interest or pleasure in their lives.
2. Low energy and constant fatigue
In contrast to supercharged energy during mania, this phase leaves a person feeling drained of energy and motivation. The smallest task – even getting out of bed – can seem impossible. A depressed person isn’t able to move forward and do what’s supposed to be done. As a result, performance at home, work, or school often suffers.
3. Decreased ability to think clearly
The same mind that races from idea to idea when manic may feel paralyzed during depression, making it hard for the sufferer to remember things and make decisions. Depression can lead to serious disruptions in concentration and attention.
4. Suicidal thoughts and behavior
Depression often leads to dwelling on past mistakes, including blunders made while manic. When it gets really bad, you may feel cornered, as if all possible ways of escaping a situation are closed. That’s when suicidal thoughts can take hold. And without treatment, the risk of acting on them is high. Up to 20% of people with bipolar disorder take their lives.
If you recognize several warning signs of bipolar disorder in yourself or a loved one, seek help. Contact a psychiatrist or other mental health professional, or get a referral from your primary care physician. You are not alone!