Bipolar Disorder Symptoms & Warning Signs

Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Learn about bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorders are a group of mental health illnesses that can cause extreme distress and upset within the lives of those who struggle with them. The most commonly recognized disorders are bipolar I disorder, bipolar II disorder, and cyclothymic disorder. These three disorders, according to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), are described below:
Bipolar I disorder is the most severe form of bipolar disorder, as the mood changes that come with it often cause serious impairment in an individual’s ability to function appropriately. To be diagnosed with this type of bipolar disorder, an individual must have gone through at least one manic episode, which can be preceded or followed up by a major depressive or hypomanic episode(s). Changes in mood for those with bipolar I can be dramatic, and can quickly shift from euphoria to anger to depression.
Bipolar II disorder is a mood disorder that involves at least one major depressive episode and at least one hypomanic episode. Those who have bipolar II will notice disturbances in some aspects of their functioning, however, they will not suffer with the same amount of impairment that those with bipolar I do.
Cyclothymic disorder is diagnosed in an individual who has experienced symptoms of depression and hypomania, however, their symptoms are not severe enough to meet criteria for an episode of hypomania, depression, or mania. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) states that the primary feature of cyclothymic disorder (cyclothymia) is continued fluctuations in mood that surround symptoms of depression and hypomania for at least 2 years.

While the presence of a type of bipolar disorder can trigger strife within the lives of those who are afflicted with it, the challenges that individuals with bipolar disorders face can be intensified if they are also struggling with a substance abuse problem at the same time. The presence of a substance use disorder can not only agitate existing bipolar disorder symptoms, but it can also bring on a whole slew of new ones. Furthermore, the individuals can also suffer physical health issues. Luckily, there are treatment options available for bipolar disorder that are designed to help those facing this type of dual diagnosis learn how to develop proper coping skills all while defeating their addictions. By participating in treatment such as this, individuals can reclaim their lives once and for all.


Statistics about bipolar disorder

According to the APA, roughly 0.6% of the population struggles with bipolar I disorder in the United States. Nearly 0.8% of the population is afflicted with bipolar II disorder, and cyclothymic disorder has a lifetime prevalence of about 0.4% to 0/.1%.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for bipolar disorders

The causes and risk factors for bipolar disorders can be explained in the following:
Genetic: An individual’s genetic makeup can be one of the most common causes for the onset of bipolar disorders. If an individual shares a family history of bipolar disorders, he or she is much more likely to develop a form of bipolar disorder. Regarding cyclothymic disorder, a family history of major depressive disorder can boost one’s chances of developing this disorder. The APA states that genetic factors can play a major role in determining the age that an individual will start to experience symptoms.
Environmental: An individual’s environment can impact the onset of bipolar I when a genetic link is present. The APA states that bipolar I is most common in high-income countries. In addition, they also report that those who are widowed, divorced, or separated have an increased rate of bipolar I than those who are married or have never been married. The correlation between the two remains undefined.
Risk Factors:

  • Abusing drugs and/or alcohol can cause the onset of symptoms when one possesses a genetic predisposition for the disorder.
  • Being widowed, divorced, or separated
  • Having a family history of bipolar I, bipolar II, cyclothymic disorder, or major depressive disorder
  • Living in a more developed country

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder

The signs and symptoms of bipolar disorders will vary based on the type of bipolar disorder that an individual is suffering from. Manic episodes only occur in those who have bipolar I, so if symptoms such as these are present, this type of diagnosis would be accurate. Some of the signs and symptoms that one could exhibit when suffering from a bipolar disorder can include:

Manic episode: The DSM-5 states that manic episodes occur when individuals go through a period of elevated, expansive, or irritable mood. This mood can last for at least one week, and symptoms occur for most of the day almost every day. Manic episodes can cause serious impairment in an individual’s ability to function properly. Symptoms of a manic episode include:

  • Spending an increased amount of time in goal-directed activity
  • Participating in activities that have the potential to elicit detrimental consequences, such as going on major spending sprees or engaging in risky sexual behavior
  • Inflated self-esteem or sense of grandiosity
  • Euphoric or excessively cheerful mood
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Psychomotor agitation
  • Excessively talkative
  • High level of distractibility
  • Experiencing a flight of ideas
  • Racing thoughts

Major depressive episode: Individuals who are battling with a major depressive episode will experience at least five symptoms within a two-week-long period and will show a change in their regular pattern of functioning. The symptoms of a major depressive episode can also bring on impairment and distress that is considered clinically significant and can produce negative impacts on an individual’s life. The APA states that the following are symptoms of a major depressive episode:

  • Struggling to make decisions
  • Experiencing recurrent thoughts of death
  • Fatigue or extreme loss of energy
  • Diminished ability to concentrate
  • Experiencing excessive and/or inappropriate guilt
  • No longer demonstrating an interest in things that were once found pleasurable
  • Noticeable change in appetite and subsequent weight loss or weight gain
  • Psychomotor agitation or retardation
  • No longer engaging in activities that one once enjoyed
  • Struggling with insomnia or hypersomnia nearly every day
  • Suffering from a depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day
  • Feelings of worthlessness


Effects of bipolar disorder

When individuals battle with bipolar disorders and do not obtain the treatment they need, they are putting themselves at risk for going through a wide variety of detrimental effects. Some of these effects can include:

  • Engaging in self-harming behaviors
  • Disturbances within interpersonal relationships
  • Familial strife
  • Suffering from suicidal thoughts or engaging in suicidal behaviors
  • Worsening of current symptoms
  • Occupational struggles, which can lead to job loss and subsequent financial strain
  • Financial turmoil as a result of spending excessive amounts of money during manic episodes
  • Beginning to abuse drugs and/or alcohol
  • Marital discord
  • Cognitive impairments

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-occurring disorders

The APA states that co-occurring mental disorders are common amongst those who are battling with bipolar disorders. Co-occurring substance use disorders are cited as being much more common in those with this type of mental illness. Some examples of additional co-occurring conditions include:

Bipolar I disorder: Anxiety disorders, which include social anxiety disorder, specific phobia, and panic disorder, occur among nearly three-fourths of those who suffer from bipolar I. Other disorders that often co-occur with bipolar I include:

  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Other substance use disorders
  • Intermittent explosive disorder (IED)
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
  • Conduct disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Bipolar II disorder: Studies have shown that individuals with bipolar II disorder almost always battle with one or more co-occurring mental health issues. The APA states that 60% of people with bipolar II also struggle from three or more co-occurring disorders, some of which include:

  • Substance use disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Anxiety disorders

Cyclothymic disorder: Those with cyclothymic disorder often struggle with the following co-occurring disorders:

  • Sleep disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Substance use disorders