Understanding Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

The DSM-IV-TR is the current manual used to diagnose mental health disorders. In that manual, there are four types of Bipolar identified. This article is a layperson’s guide to symptoms. Remember that only qualified professionals can make a diagnosis. If you believe you have Bipolar Disorder, it is best to seek the help of a professional.

Before determining whether or not a Bipolar diagnosis is accurate, you need to understand the symptoms. Bipolar Disorders include manic episodes, mixed episodes, and depressive episodes. A manic episode (called hypomanic if the symptoms are less severe) can include elevated mood, pressured speech, irrational or impulsive behaviors, a decreased need for sleep, grandiosity, racing thoughts, flight of ideas, distractibility, and possible delusions or hallucinations. Symptoms of depression may include increased or decreased need for sleep, increased or decreased appetite, fatigue, low energy, disinterest in pleasurable activities, feelings of helplessness or hopelessness, excessive guilt, irritability, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, crying, and suicidal thoughts or attempts. A mixed episode occurs when a person experiences symptoms of both depression and mania at the same time.

The first type of Bipolar Disorder identified in the DSM-IV-TR is Bipolar I. In order to have Bipolar I, a person must have experienced at least one manic or mixed episode and will often have experienced an episode(s) of depression as well.

Bipolar II disorder is characterized by episodes of depression and hypomania. Symptoms may last for a few days or a few months.

Cyclothymia is the third type of Bipolar Disorder. It is given to individuals who have less severe depressive and hypomanic episodes as long as the symptoms negatively affect the person’s ability to function in work, school, and social or family settings. The individual with this disorder may have periods of time where symptoms are not present.

Bipolar NOS (not otherwise specified) is given to individuals who do not fall within the specific requirements for one of the other categories of Bipolar, but who are experiencing significant enough symptoms to warrant the diagnosis of Bipolar.

There are specifiers that indicate things such as severity, whether or not psychosis is present, and how fast a person “cycles.” Rapid cycling means that symptoms change quickly, possibly within the course of 24 hours.

Bipolar Disorders are usually diagnosed in individuals before the age of 30. If there is a family history of Bipolar Disorder, it increases the likelihood that you could have the disorder. If you believe you may be suffering from symptoms of a Bipolar Disorder, there is treatment available. Please read the second article in this series regarding treatment options, Treating Bipolar Disorder.