Updated on April 23, 2024
5 min read

Bipolar Disorder: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment Options

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes mood changes and affects your day-to-day life. However, these mood swings are more than your typical ups and downs.

Bipolar disorder involves intense episodes of mania/hypomania and depression. This rollercoaster of emotions can make life feel unpredictable and challenging.

These intense emotions can also affect your routine and relationships. On the bright side, bipolar disorder is treatable⁠—all you need is to find the right support.

How Does Bipolar Disorder Affect Your Life?

Bipolar disorder can affect different aspects of your life. Here’s how:

  • Relationships: Frequent and sudden mood swings can strain your relationship with loved ones
  • Work & school: Your focus and productivity can fluctuate wildly, affecting your career and education
  • Hobbies & interests: Your energy can dramatically change throughout the day, leaving you little to no energy for hobbies and activities
  • Sleep: Bipolar disorder can cause insomnia/hypersomnia and other sleep disturbances
  • Eating habits: Impulsivity and mood swings can lead to anorexia or other eating disorders
  • Physical health: Bipolar disorder can influence physical activity levels and make managing other health conditions harder

These challenges can only get worse if you leave bipolar disorder untreated. If you or someone you know is struggling with bipolar disorder, we encourage seeking professional help.

What are the Types of Bipolar Disorder?

There are different types of bipolar disorders, and everyone’s experience can be different. You might experience more intense and longer-lasting symptoms compared to other people.

Here's a breakdown of the main types:

Bipolar I disorderFull-blown manic episodes, possibly alongside depressive episodes or less intense 'highs' (hypomania)
Bipolar II disorderMajor depressive episodes alongside hypomanic episodes, but not the extreme highs of Bipolar I
Cyclothymic disorderShorter periods of milder highs and lows that persist for a long time
Rapid cycling bipolarRefers to having four or more depressive, manic/hypomanic, or mixed episodes within a year
Bipolar with mixed featuresWhen you experience depression and mania/hypomania at the same time or very quickly after each other
Seasonal patternSpecific times of the year or seasons can affect your mood
UnspecifiedSometimes, symptoms don't fit neatly into the above categories

Signs and Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is more than just mood swings. It involves different episodes of intense emotions. 

Here’s what these episodes look like:

Mania and Hypomania

Hypomania is a milder version of mania that lasts shorter. Both cause periods of abnormally elevated mood swings and heightened energy. 

Signs include:

  • Feeling overly happy, wired, or jumpy
  • Surge in energy, restlessness
  • Racing thoughts, talking very fast
  • Easily distracted
  • Inflated sense of self, unrealistic beliefs in one's abilities
  • Impulsivity
  • Risky behaviors 


These episodes bring overwhelming sadness and often a lack of energy. Signs include:

  • Lingering sadness, hopelessness, irritability
  • Feeling drained, unmotivated
  • Trouble concentrating, making decisions
  • Loss of interest in things you once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • Feeling worthless, excessive guilt
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Mixed Episodes

These are particularly challenging, with symptoms of both mania and depression occurring at the same time (for example, intense sadness alongside extreme restlessness).


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Treatment Options for Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder starts at any age, but it’s typically diagnosed in your teens or young adult life. It also requires a comprehensive treatment plan to manage symptoms and improve quality of life.

Treatment for bipolar disorder typically involves a combination of:


Several types of medications help stabilize mood and reduce the severity of episodes:

  • Mood Stabilizers: The foundation of Bipolar Disorder treatment, these include options like lithium, valproic acid, and others
  • Antipsychotics: Often used alongside mood stabilizers if symptoms are severe
  • Antidepressants: Used carefully, as they might trigger mania in some people. Sometimes they are combined with a mood stabilizer
  • Anti-Anxiety Medications: Helps with short-term anxiety but carries addiction risks

It’s important to understand that finding the right medication(s) can take time and requires working closely with your doctor.

Psychotherapy (Talk Therapy)

Therapy is crucial for learning how to live well with bipolar disorder. It can help you understand the condition and provide coping techniques to manage symptoms.

Therapeutic approaches typically include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which teaches how to change negative thought patterns and behaviors, and family-focused therapy to improve relationships and communication within the family.

Other approaches include interpersonal and social rhythm therapy, which can help people manage symptoms and problem-solve.

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle changes can do wonders for bipolar disorder. Simple changes to your routine can put you in a positive headspace and reduce triggers.

These lifestyle changes include:

  • A stable sleep schedule
  • Healthy diet and exercise
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol that destabilize your mood
  • Deep breathing, meditation, and other relaxation techniques
  • Structured routine to provide stability and help ease bipolar symptoms

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How Long Does Treatment Take to Work?

Treatment for bipolar disorder takes time, and the experience varies from person to person. The duration of treatment typically depends on various factors, like the type of treatment, the severity of your symptoms, and how your body responds.

Mood stabilizers and other medications will start showing benefits after a few weeks. But it might take months to reach full effect. On the other hand, therapy sessions happen over several months.

It’s important to understand that treatment is an ongoing process, not a quick fix. Regularly check in with your doctor to see how well you’ve progressed. They can also adjust your treatment as necessary.

When Should You Call Emergency Help?

If someone is experiencing a severe episode, they may need to be hospitalized for their safety. It also provides focused treatment to help them manage intense symptoms. 

If you think they’re at risk of harming themselves, please contact help:

While it might sometimes feel overwhelming, Bipolar Disorder is manageable. By working with a mental health professional, you can develop a treatment plan that fits your unique needs. 

Treatment typically involves a combination of medication, therapy, and healthy lifestyle changes. However, educating yourself about Bipolar Disorder is a powerful step in managing the condition. 

It’s important to understand that treatment takes time. Consider reaching out to loved ones and support groups to help you through difficult times.

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Updated on April 23, 2024

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