A sudden shift in a mental state is often nothing to be concerned about. However, some may wonder: how do I know if I have bipolar disorder?
Unfortunately, even in our more tolerant and accepting society, there still exists stigma and misunderstanding of what bipolar disorder is. Just a cursory scroll on the internet can lead one down a rabbit hole of bipolar diagnosing tests and quizzes, message boards related to self-diagnosis and a litany of bad takes and even worse advice.
We aim to clarify what this disorder actually is and how one can properly identify specific symptoms in order to have a better understanding of this mental health condition.
What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that has mood swings in one extreme followed by a period of either a neutral state or an episode involving the other side of an emotional extreme. For example, someone with bipolar disorder may experience severe depression and then shift to a more relaxed or even positive mood change. ¹
Bipolar actually a banner name for two different mental health conditions:
- Bipolar Type I is a classification of the disorder that has an episode of manic behavior lasting typically a week or longer. Most often these manic symptoms are so severe that the patient will have to have medical or mental health intervention. ²
- Bipolar Type II is the other end of the spectrum with a patient having a depressive swing that lasts for two weeks or longer. However, unlike bipolar type I, type II has a manic upswing that immediately follows the depressive episode. This manic shift typically lasts for around four to five days.
How Common is Bipolar Disorder?
Currently, 4.4 percent of US adults live with either form of the condition. ³ It’s less common than other conditions, like anxiety and depression. Still, it ranks up there in the top ten diagnosed mental health conditions, currently sitting in the sixth position. ⁴
Populations Most at Risk
Bipolar disorders can be genetic, as the condition may carry from generation to generation. ⁵ While there’s a misconception that bipolar symptoms are more prevalent in females, the condition affects both men and women equally. However, research has shown females experiencing more intense depressive episodes as well as a higher frequency of episodic cycling. ⁶
Still, while women experience more depressive swings, men often show more manic episodes. They also often experience bipolar type I rather than type II.
Men are also more prone to struggle with addiction, which combined with bipolar disorder can exacerbate harmful behaviors, such as binge drinking and compulsive gambling. ⁷ Those with bipolar disorder can also develop self-harm actions like cutting, obsessive skin picking, or in extreme cases, suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder symptoms can be wide-ranging and seem antithetical to one another. Most of these symptoms can be easily identifiable individually. However, they are paint a broader picture as a part of mood swings that make up for episode types. Such mood swings are:
Mania-related symptoms often include an increase in energy, fixation, concentration, and a heightened state of paranoia. Such symptoms can resemble the following: ⁸
- Elevated mood with higher amounts of energy, focus
- Excessive talking and rapid shifts in conversation (i.e. jumping from topic to topic)
- Racing or disorganized thoughts
- Rapidly shifting attention
- Increased productivity in work, school, or on tasks at home
- Decrease the need for rest, sleep, or relaxation
- Enhancing risky behaviors to combat boredom or stagnation. They can include self-harm behaviors like beings consumption of alcohol and illicit substances or performing dangerous stunts
- Experiencing hallucinations, delusions, or changes in temperament.
Hyper mania have manic symptoms but in a more relaxed state. The timeframe of a hyper manic episode is also shorter in length than a manic episodes. On top of this, they’ll have less of an impact on the day-to-day life. ⁹
Depressive swings are the inverse of manic and hyper manic episodes. They generally include a lack of enthusiasm, lowered energy levels, and general disinterest in activities and social relationships.
However, depressive episode-related symptoms can be wide-ranging and often extends from the typical “blues” or “down in the dumps” mood. Such symptoms can be: ¹⁰
- Dramatic increases or decreases in sleep and quality of sleep
- Shifts in appetite and diet, with some experiencing heightened hunger and others having a decrease or disinterest in food
- Increased intrusive thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
These episodes often last for days or weeks and can begin in a mild state and decline into a more serve state. In a situation where a patient is having thoughts or actions of self-harm, it’s imperative to reach out for help.
How Do I Know If I Have Bipolar Disorder?
Diagnosis for a condition like bipolar disorder should ultimately be up to a health professional. That being said, someone who may feel like they’re experiencing bipolar-related symptoms should take certain considerations into account.
Such considerations could be documenting their symptoms, the timeframe of these symptoms, and noting the intensity of these emotions and experiences. Bipolar disorder is not an easy or clear condition to diagnose, so the more details documented the better for diagnosis. It’s also important to build a social support framework so that others are aware and can add their own observations and offer support.
The diagnostic basis for bipolar disorder differs by the individual disorders and their unique characteristics.
Bipolar type I diagnosis involves the patient experience at least one manic episode, often followed closely by a hypomanic or depressive swing. ¹¹
For bipolar type II, a clinician will take into account the hypomanic episodes. More specifically, their frequency and intensity, and whether or not they were preceded or are followed by another mood swing.
If the hypomanic symptoms aren’t followed up with an inverse mood swing then the diagnosis will be bipolar two and the treatment will reflect as such. ¹²
Bipolar Disorder Treatment
Treatment for bipolar is multifaceted and includes treatment through talk therapy and medication.
Talk therapy allows for the patient to come to terms with their diagnosis and disorder. It also allows for the patient to be monitored closely by a mental health professional. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is utilized for the development of coping skills. ¹³
As for medication, bipolar patients have several different treatment options. The medications used for bipolar disorder often fall into six different categories: ¹⁴
Lithium is often utilized by mental health professionals in the case of bipolar disorder due to its ability to regulate mood.
Anticonvulsants help in controlling abnormal electrical activity within the brain. For bipolar patients, anticonvulsants can be incredibly helpful in soothing manic activity.
Antipsychotics are a form of medication that aids in regulating mood and can help alter behavior. These kinds of medications can be extremely helpful for mania symptoms by reducing delusions and calming hallucinations.
Antidepressants for those with bipolar disorder have shown great promise in managing the depressive episodes.
Benzodiazepines are a neuro-depressant medication. They are responsible for slowing down neurological and nervous system processing. When it comes to bipolar disorder, this can result in a calmer state during manic episodes.
Symbyax is a combination of an antipsychotic and an antidepressant. It’s specifically used to treat depression-related episodes in bipolar patients.
As we have learned bipolar is not a simple mental health condition. It’s a complex condition that affects each patient differently.
Bipolar disorder is actually two distinct mental health illnesses, each with its own symptom set, kinds of mood swings, diagnostic codes, and treatment options. While it’s understandable that one would want to try and self-diagnose, it’s best to leave actual diagnosing to the professionals.
Still, that isn’t to say that those concerned that they might be developing something shouldn’t research, knowledge, and understand their mental health. In fact, we here at Bedlamite believe in the opposite of that kind of thinking.
It’s always recommended to be in tune with how you are feeling, acknowledge what you are experiencing and reach out for help when necessary. If you feel like you might have a mental health concern, it is best to relay these thoughts, feelings, and concerns to a trusted physician.
Still, have questions about how do you know if you have bipolar disorder?
We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. We’d also love to hear from you if you have any further knowledge to share – whether personal or professional.
¹ American Psychiatric Association: What Are Bipolar Disorders?
² GoodRX: What are the Differences Between Bipolar I & II
³ National Institute for Mental Health: Bipolar Disorder- An Overview
⁴ National Centers for Biotechnical Information – PubMed: Bipolar Disorder
⁵ MedlinePlus: Bipolar Disorder & Genetics
⁶ National Center for Biotechnical Information – PubMed: Gender Differences in Bipolar Patients
⁷ International Bipolar Foundation: Bipolar Disorder In Men & Women
⁸ National Health Service UK: Mania Symptoms
⁹ Cleveland Clinic: Hypomania – What Is It?
¹⁰ Cleveland Clinic: Bipolar Disorder: An Understanding of Manic & Depressive Symptoms
¹¹ National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): Bipolar I Definition
¹² Baptist Health: What is Bipolar II Disorder? – Signs & Symptoms
¹³ National Health Service UK: Bipolar Treatment
¹⁴ GoodRX: Common Bipolar Medication Types