People who struggle with bipolar disorder suffer from extreme high and low mood swings. During the highs, one will experience a sense of mania. During the lows, one will feel a period of depression.¹
If you believe you or someone you love suffers from bipolar disorder, you’re not alone. Nearly 2.6% of Americans currently struggle with symptoms of the illness.²
The purpose of this blog is to help you identify 15 signs of bipolar disorder. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.
Signs of a Depressive Episode
Since bipolar disorder causes completely opposite symptoms during specific periods of time, it’s important to identify both. To begin, we’re going to take a look at a depressive state.
These can last anywhere from days to weeks to months and will produce the following:
1. Loss of Interest in Activities You Once Enjoyed
Do you feel as though you no longer have an interest in the things that once made you happy? Do you find that you go through periods of a lack of interest only to suddenly want to participate again?
This is one of the first signs of depression as a whole. For many people, they still have an interest in specific activities. What’s lacking is the motivation to go out and participate.
Though this isn’t the case for everyone, it may help to force yourself to get into the habit of participating in the activity on a regular basis – even if you don’t want to. Studies show it takes about six weeks to form a habit and, if you can develop this habit, you may find your interest peaking again.³
2. Feeling More Fatigue (or Lack of Energy) Than Normal
Part of the reason you may feel a lack of interest in activities that once interested you is due to strong sensations of fatigue. Do you have trouble getting up in the morning? Do you find it difficult to go about your day without feeling exhausted?
Fatigue is one of the most difficult elements of a depressive episode because there is no simple cure. Similarly to your lack of interest in activities, it takes a certain mental energy to not feel so tired so often.
We suggest you look into activities that boost dopamine, such as exercising.⁴ Dopamine helps us stay awake and counteracts negative feelings associated with depression. Of course, there’s the struggle of getting yourself to perform such activities.
We also suggest eating healthier as this provides the brain with proper nutrients for these activities.
3. Breaking Connections with Family and Friends
It’s natural for someone going through a depressive episode to want to avoid people as a whole. However, there is a huge risk to this as people can become the support system they need to push through the episode.
When it comes to family and friends, these people seem to be affected the most. If you are one of these people, you shouldn’t take it personally. Your loved one is disconnecting not out of spite, but out of a condition they’re having difficulty managing.
If you are one of these people, it will help to reach out and show your support. The right support for someone with a bipolar disorder can go a long way to helping them recover.
If you are struggling with bipolar disorder and find yourself withdrawing from friends and family, it’s important to remember that these people care about you and want the best for you. Their support may be just what you need to get some energy back and put yourself into a healthy, happier lifestyle.
4. Feeling Sad, Hopeless, and Helpless
Still, you may have difficulty reaching out to friends if you feel as though you’re helpless. It’s common for people going through a depressive episode to feel as though there is no way out. In effect, they’re left feeling sadder and weaker.
The truth is, there is a way out. You’re just having difficulty properly seeing this. That’s not to say you can’t see it. That’s to say, it’s difficult for you to see it during your depressive episode.
If you’re receiving traditional treatment, you’re most likely going through psychotherapy. The purpose of this is to help identify your thought patterns and change them to a more positive perspective.⁵
If you aren’t receiving traditional treatment and find yourself feeling overwhelmed with sadness, hopelessness, and helplessness, it’s highly suggested you look into psychotherapy.
5. Difficulties with Memory, Concentration, and Making Decisions
When going through a depressive episode, you’ll most likely find day-to-day activities are much more difficult than they should be. Part of the reason for this is your brain isn’t thinking along the same lines as everyone else.
You’re having more difficulty concentrating. You can’t seem to make a proper decision. And it’s hard to remember certain things, even if you were informed about them not too long ago.
Psychotherapy also helps in this regard.
6. Change in Appetite
Do you find yourself eating much less than you used to? Or, vice versa, are you eating much more than you used to?
As we’ve discussed, depressive episodes change the brain and the way it processes. This has a strong effect on our appetites and can leave us either not wanting to eat or desiring to eat too much.
Since your appetite has a large effect on your overall health, it’s important to consult a doctor if you’re noticing major changes in your appetite.
7. Suicidal Ideation
It’s common knowledge that people facing depression are much more likely to think about, attempt, or commit suicide. Yet, many people overlook this aspect of depression as it’s so extreme, it – to some extent – seems unlikely.
However, it’s important to never overlook this aspect of depression.
If you’re a loved one and noticing some of the signs mentioned above, you must have a conversation about suicide with the person struggling. If you’re the one struggling, it’s vital you understand there is help available.
If you’re considering suicide, we highly advise you either:
- You call 911 or go to your local emergency room.
- Reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
Signs of a Manic Episode
Between depressive states, a person with bipolar disorder will also go through manic episodes. These can last anywhere from days to weeks to months and will produce the following:
8. Having Rapid Thoughts
Do you ever find yourself having a hard time trying to grasp what you’re trying to think? Or, even worse, what you’re trying to say?
One of the signs of a manic episode is having racing thoughts that may surface when you talk to people. You might find it difficult to slow down your sentences and to consider the point you’re trying to make.
Though this isn’t the most detrimental of signs, it can have consequences in certain situations. For example, if you’re at a job interview and can’t properly answer questions.
One of the most notable signs of manic episodes is that of impulsivity and restlessness. People within the state find it hard to keep still and may appear agitated if asked to sit patiently in one spot for too long.
Some people with bipolar disorder make the most of this and try to be as productive as possible. However, others may find themselves constantly running into dead ends – partly due to their inconsistently rapid thoughts.
If you struggle with the latter, you’ll benefit heavily from psychotherapy. Though it won’t offer you a cure to manic episodes, it will help you develop a better sense of yourself. Through this, you too will be able to make the most of your restless state.
Or, even better, learn how to control it.
10. Prone to Distraction
People struggling with a manic state may feel as though they’re suffering from attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as it can become quite difficult to simply pay attention.
This can make school a nightmare in children and teenagers and tedious jobs equally so for adults.⁶ Distractions can also work alongside other signs, such as impulsivity. In effect, this can lead to nasty consequences.
For example, a man with bipolar disorder at his tedious job may be looking around the room for anything to make him feel better. Impulsively, he spots a pretty coworker and goes onto to get lost in the distraction.
If she notices, this can lead to complications at work.
11. Participating in Risky Behavior
There are a number of risky behaviors a person with bipolar disorder may find him/herself in, such as:
- Binge eating
- Compulsive sexual relations
- Spending large sums of money
…just to name a few.
This kind of conduct is what makes manic episodes a big risk for a person’s life as a whole. Decisions made within this period can have consequences much further down the line. Consequences which may be reflected in a depressive state.
Some researchers have found connections between bipolar disorder (along with other mental illnesses) and substance abuse disorder.⁷
If you find yourself participating in risky behavior, it’s vital you seek professional help as soon as possible.
12. Lack of Sleep
Since people experiencing a manic state tend to be restless, insomnia is a common sign that has its impact. There are so many studies around what a lack of sleep does to the human brain and body that it takes no more than a quick Google Search to realize the consequences.
Luckily, this is one of the easier signs to work with. Sleep supplements such as melatonin can help regulate the body’s sleep cycle back into its normal state.
13. Feeling Extreme Happiness
It may seem odd we’d mention extreme happiness as a problem of manic episodes. In truth, isn’t that what most of us are seeking out?
The problem is this extreme happiness is brought upon by an extreme “high”. In other words, it’ll quickly vanish once the manic episode is over. Furthermore, while it is going on, a person may feel so overwhelmed with happiness, they feel no consequence in participating in the risky behaviors mentioned above.
Feeling happy is good and something people with bipolar disorder are working towards. However, if you’re in this position, you should be working towards consistent happiness rather than moments of extreme happiness.
With that extreme happiness, you may feel overconfident in yourself. And overconfidence can lead to risky decisions.
Still have questions about the signs of bipolar disorder?
We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any personal or professional knowledge on the topic, we’d also love to hear from you.
We try to reply to each comment in a prompt and personal manner.
¹ NIMH: Bipolar Disorder
³ British Journal of General Practice: Making health habitual: the psychology of ‘habit-formation’ and general practice
⁵ HHS Public Access: Psychotherapy for Bipolar Disorder in Adults: A Review of the Evidence
⁶ Psychiatry MMC: A Review of Bipolar Disorder in Adults