What is Bipolar Disorder?

Fluctuations in mood happen in all people as a part of every day life. Bipolar disorder has nothing to do with these mood fluctuations. Bipolar disorder is a serious mood disorder that features symptoms of both mania and depression that fall well outside the realm of typical mood fluctuations.

Manic symptoms include an elevated energy level, lack of need for sleep, racing thoughts, rapid speech, agitation, anger, rage, self-destructive behavior, lack of impulse control, delusions, paranoia, and psychosis.

Depressed symptoms include lack of energy, excessive sleep, lethargy, emotional detachment, isolation, dissatisfaction, and suicidal ideation.

While bipolar is best understood as a spectrum disorder there are several discrete diagnoses along the bipolar spectrum. These include bipolar I, bipolar II, and cyclothymia, as well as bipolar with mixed features and bipolar with rapid cycling.

What distinguishes bipolar I from other kinds of bipolar is that it includes full mania. This is mania with psychosis, which can include paranoia, delusions, and hallucinations, both auditory and visual. If any of these symptoms is present during an elevated mood episode this is bipolar I.

Bipolar II does not include full mania with psychosis. The mania without psychosis present in bipolar II is called hypomania. Hypomania has features that are similar to mania and can be equally disruptive, it just lacks the psychosis found in full mania.

Cyclothymic disorder is similar to bipolar II, but with less extreme swings. Hypomanic and depressed symptoms are present, but they’re not as pronounced as they are with bipolar II.

Bipolar with mixed features includes both depressive and manic symptoms simultaneously. This is also called “mixed states” and is considered by many to be its own mood episode, just like mania and depression are. It has the same high energy and racing thoughts of hypomania/mania but those symptoms are combined with the hopelessness, despair, and suicidal ideation of depression.

Bipolar with rapid cycling means that you experience at least four mood episodes in a 12 month period. Episodes must last for a few days to be considered distinct episodes.
If you believe that you or a loved one may have bipolar disorder please take this free, anonymous, online screening

For more information about bipolar disorder read this post and/or visit Mental Health America’s website

This page was produced in partnership with the Plantory AmeriCorps VISTA network and Mental Health America of Kentucky.