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Symptoms & Signs of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a diagnosable mental health condition that many people know as “manic depression.” While not entirely inaccurate, this term fails to reflect the range of symptoms that can appear in affected individuals. In fact, you would never know from this description that bipolar illnesses actually appear in three separate forms, each of which comes with its own set of mental health challenges. Let’s take a closer look at the full range of symptoms that can occur.

Symptoms of Bipolar I Disorder

Bipolar I disorder is what most people think of when the subject of bipolar illness comes up. People affected by this condition experience at least one bout of an unusual and dysfunctional mood, known as mania, that lasts for a minimum of seven days or produces shorter-lasting but more severe symptoms. In most cases, people with bipolar I disorder also experience depression symptoms serious enough to qualify separately as major depression.

Potential symptoms of mania include:

  • An inflated sense of self-worth or esteem
  • Unusually rapid patterns of thought
  • An unusual inability to avoid distraction
  • A significant decline in the need to sleep
  • An unusual tendency to talk excessively
  • An increased tendency to focus strongly on goals
  • An increased willingness to engage in clearly risky behavior

By definition, a manic state interferes with your ability to function normally in everyday life. In addition, it can lead to a need for temporary hospitalization. In a worst-case scenario, mania can trigger psychosis, a loss of contact with reality that can include hallucinations, delusional thinking or a combination of these two major mental health issues.

Potential symptoms of depression in a person with bipolar I disorder include:

  • A persistent “down” mood (e.g., feelings of sadness, hopelessness or emptiness)
  • A reduced or absent ability to experience pleasure
  • Significantly altered sleep patterns (insomnia or excessive sleepiness)
  • Significant appetite changes
  • An inability to think clearly
  • Frequent feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Unusual restlessness or sluggishness
  • A notable decline in energy levels
  • Involvement in suicide-related thinking, planning or action

At least five of these symptoms appear (simultaneously or separately) within a time period that lasts for at least two weeks.

Symptoms of Bipolar II Disorder

In some ways, the symptoms of bipolar disorder in people with this condition resemble those found in people with bipolar I disorder. Specifically, people with bipolar II disorder can experience bouts of depression that meet the criteria for major depression. However, instead of experiencing episodes of mania, they experience episodes of a less severe state known as hypomania. The list of potential hypomania symptoms is the same as the list of potential mania symptoms. But hypomania never grows severe enough to seriously disrupt you or your loved one’s ability to function normally or maintain a daily routine. In addition, people experiencing episodes of hypomania don’t develop psychosis.

Symptoms of Cyclothymic Disorder

The third form of bipolar illness is called cyclothymic disorder or cyclothymia. Like people with bipolar II disorder, people with this condition experience episodes of hypomania instead of episodes of mania. However, instead of the major depression symptoms associated with bipolar I disorder and bipolar II disorder, cyclothymic disorder triggers bouts of a less severe form of depression called dysthymia. The symptoms of dysthymia are basically the same as the symptoms of major depression. However, they don’t have as much of an impact on the ability to maintain normal function. In addition, bouts of dysthymia in a person with cyclothymic disorder occur repeatedly over a period of two years or longer.

Additional Symptoms

The symptoms of bipolar disorder may also take other forms in people with the bipolar I or bipolar II version of the condition. Examples of these additional potential symptoms include:

  • “Mixed” episodes that include indications of both mania/hypomania and depression
  • A non-reactive mental and physical state called catatonia
  • Unusually rapid cycling between manic/hypomanic episodes and depressive episodes
  • Episodes of mania/hypomania or depression that only occur during the transition between seasons of the year


National Institute of Mental Health: Bipolar Disorder

National Alliance on Mental Illness: Bipolar Disorder

Mayo Clinic: Bipolar Disorder – Symptoms

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