How to Recognize, Treat, and Live with Bipolar Disorder

What is Bipolar Disorder?  

Bipolar Disorder is a mental condition that causes extreme mood swings. Mood swings range from excited highs (Mania/Hypermania) to debilitating lows (Depressive episodes). When someone with Bipolar Disorder experiences these patterns of symptoms they are called “episodes”. They can affect the individual’s mood, energy levels, focus and concentration, and ability to complete day-to-day tasks. 

Who is affected by Bipolar Disorder? 

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the average age-of-onset for Bipolar Disorder is 25 years old. There are uncommon cases where teenagers and children are diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Both men and women are equally affected and it is a lifelong condition. 

There is not a single cause of Bipolar Disorder, but there are several factors that could contribute to it: 

  • Stress – Very stressful situations such as a family death, relationship or financial difficulties, or past trauma can contribute to Bipolar Disorder. People with Bipolar Disorder may also be more likely to have an anxiety disorder, eating disorder, and/or ADHD, among other illnesses.
  • Genetics – An individual is more likely to have Bipolar Disorder if their parent or sibling was diagnosed with it, but not always. Just because a direct family member was diagnosed does not mean you will experience symptoms or receive a diagnosis. 
  • Brain structure and function – The brain of somebody with Bipolar Disorder slightly differs from the brain of somebody without it. Brain scans cannot diagnose Bipolar Disorder, however. 

Do I have Bipolar Disorder? 

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder  

The symptoms of Bipolar Disorder range from depressive lows to jittery highs. The specific symptoms somebody experiences may be characteristic of the type of Bipolar Disorder that person has. 

Mania and Hypermania – The excited, high, or irritable side of Bipolar Disorder is mania or hypermania. Hypermania is not as severe as mania. Somebody experiencing hypermania may feel a burst of energy and still be able to function throughout the day. Manic episodes can include psychotic episodes and can cause more problems for the individual. A fuller list of symptoms include: 

  • Feeling a burst of energy, wired, or upbeat 
  • Higher irritability (For teenagers and children, this may be a sign of a manic episode if it is more uncommon and frequent than normal.) 
  • Trouble sleeping or feeling of restlessness 
  • Very talkative 
  • Poorer decision making in the form of spontaneous or quick decisions 
  • Exaggerated feeling of importance, being powerful, or even famous 
  • A person must experience a manic or hyper manic episode at least once to be diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder 
Woman with Bipolar disorder feeling depressed

Depression – The other side of Bipolar Disorder is feeling sad, depressed, and sluggish. A depressive episode may come before or after a manic episode. These feelings of depression make it harder for the individual to function throughout their day. Symptoms include: 

  • Feeling sad, sluggish, empty, or hopeless, which may lead to thoughts about suicide 
  • Trouble staying asleep or sleeping more than usual 
  • Quiet 
  • Inability to make decisions that are usually routine or easy to make 
  • Little interest in doing anything and/or inability to experience pleasure in doing things 
  • A person must experience these symptoms nearly every day for a period of at least two weeks for a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder 
Different types of Bipolar Disorder 

There are different types of Bipolar Disorders. They are categorized by symptoms and severity levels.

  1. Bipolar I Disorder – The individual has both manic episodes and depressive episodes, although a depressive episode in not necessary for diagnosis. Manic episodes are more severe and must last at least 7 days or be so severe that the individual requires hospitalization. Manic episodes may also come with psychotic thoughts. 
  2. Bipolar II Disorder – The individual experiences episodes of both hypermania and depression. The episodes of hypermania are not as severe as manic episodes experienced with Bipolar I. 
  3. Cyclothymic Disorder (Cyclothymia) - The individual constantly has symptoms of hypermania and depression that last for at least 2 years (1 year for children and adolescents). The symptoms are less severe and do not classify as episodes of depression or hypermania. 
  4. Other types – There are individuals who experience patterns of symptoms similar to Bipolar Disorder that affect their mood consistently, but their symptoms do not classify as Bipolar I, II, or Cyclothymia. 

When is the right time to seek professional help?


Getting professional help from a doctor or specialist is important when dealing with Bipolar Disorder. With proper treatment and help, someone with Bipolar Disorder can learn to control their symptoms and live a healthier life. A diagnosis will probably include a physical examination, interviews, as well as lab tests. Lab tests will not detect Bipolar Disorder, but will help rule out other illnesses that may cause similar symptoms. 

Bipolar man receiving help from professional

Bipolar Disorder can have similar symptoms as other disorders and illnesses. It is sometimes diagnosed alongside other conditions. This can make the process challenging for your doctor or healthcare provider.

To be diagnosed an individual must have had at least one episode of mania or hypermania. The doctor may also use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) to help diagnose what category of Bipolar Disorder the patient has. 

Treatment & Prevention for Bipolar Disorder 

There are several treatment options for someone with Bipolar Disorder. Those treatment options will depend on the patient’s specific symptoms, severity of those symptoms, and if the patient has any other conditions. 


  • Different types of medication may be used and it may take some time to find what works for you. It is important to work with your doctor to find the right solution for you. 
  •  Mood stabilizers and/or antipsychotics may be used to treat Bipolar Disorder. 
  • Antidepressants may be used to help with depressive episodes and are sometimes used alongside mood stabilizers. 

Psychotherapy (Talk Therapy)

  • Different types of psychotherapy can be used to help an individual identify triggers for episodes, as well as ways to handle their different moods and emotions. 

Health and Education 

  • Studies have shown that exercising regularly can help regulate and improve a person’s mood and self-image. Finding a regular workout routine can be beneficial for someone diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Individuals should consult their doctor before starting any new workout regime. 
  • Learning how to recognize different triggers and symptoms someone is experiencing can help them better handle their episodes.  
  • Keeping a planner or journal to record different moods, emotions, and patterns can be used with your doctor to help track and treat your Bipolar Disorder. 
  • Avoiding drugs and alcohol can be beneficial to somebody diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Different drugs and the consumption of alcohol can make symptoms worse for a patient. 

If in a crisis or emergency - Call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service is available to everyone. All calls are confidential. Contact social media outlets directly if you are concerned about a friend’s social media updates or dial 911 in an emergency. 

National Institute of Mental Health: NIMH has similar information and additional resources to learn more about living with and finding solutions for Bipolar Disorder.