Bipolar disorder is a mental health problem characterized by extreme mood swings that range from manic highs to depressive lows. These manic and depressive phases can last hours, days, weeks or even months. The phases can also become mixed, leading to feelings of elation and depression at the same time. Although the disorder can be difficult to diagnose, there are certain warning signs you can look for.
Most Common Types
There are four types of bipolar disorder that are recognized by the medical community but there are just two that are most common:
Bipolar I is the classic form of the disorder and is characterized by extreme manic phases that are very obvious and distinct. When someone with bipolar I is having a manic episode, their behavior can get out of control quickly, ending in a trip to the emergency room if untreated. A person’s manic episodes must last at least 7 days or be incredibly extreme in order to be classified as Bipolar I.
Bipolar II is four times more common than Bipolar I. The manic symptoms are much less severe and are commonly referred to as hypomania. Because they are less severe, it is harder for people to see the signs of Bipolar II in themselves and may require the assistance of friends and family to urge them to seek help. Without treatment, the hypomania can increase in severity as can the depression.
Signs of Bipolar Mania include:
- Feeling overly happy or “high” for long periods of time
- Feelings of agitation, jumpiness or feeling twitchy
- Engaging in risky behavior
- Feeling extremely restless or impulsive
- Talking fast and/or having racing thoughts
- Feeling unrealistically overconfident in your abilities
- Impaired judgment
Signs of Bipolar Depression include:
- Feelings of sadness or hopeless that go on for long periods of time
- Loss of interest in hobbies or activities you used to enjoy
- Significant loss or increase in appetite
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Talking slowly
- Significant problems with memory, concentration, or decision making
- Lack of energy or extreme fatigue
- Suicidal thoughts or fixation with death
Diagnosing Bipolar Disorder
The disorder can be difficult to diagnose because unless someone has severe mania, the symptoms can be hard to detect. People don’t usually complain of hypomania because needing less sleep and feeling more energized and confident doesn’t seem like a problem. Instead, those with Bipolar II are more likely to seek help for their depressive phases, in which case the doctor has no knowledge of their manic behavior and may not be able to make a fully correct diagnosis.
But when a doctor does see possible signs of bipolar disorder, they may do a physical exam first in order to rule out other health concerns that may be behind the symptoms. They may also do a mental health evaluation, asking you to fill out questionnaires about your health and interviewing family members. Other approaches may include using the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) or a mood diary to chart the rise and fall of your mood as well as your sleeping patterns.
If you believe you may have bipolar disorder, take the time to educate yourself about mood disorders and then talk to a doctor about your concerns. Educating yourself before speaking with a doctor will help you get the best possible results. Mental Health America may be a good place to get started.
If you are concerned that someone you know may have bipolar disorder, encourage them to seek help. It’s not uncommon for those with bipolar disorder to have trouble seeing the symptoms in themselves and may truly need your help to see the problem. For ideas on how to help a loved with their bipolar disorder, check out the advice from HelpGuide.