Signs & Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

Everyone experiences bipolar disorder differently. Understanding the signs, symptoms, and effects of bipolar disorder is a key component of starting the recovery journey.

Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Learn about bipolar disorder

Characterized by episodic cycles of mania and depression, bipolar disorder is severe mental health condition that can cause a great deal of impairment in a person’s functioning at home, school, work, and/or in the community. Classified into three types, bipolar disorder can manifest in varying ways and different degrees of severity. These three types are:

Bipolar I: This form of bipolar disorder features periods of mania and depression, of which can be intense and extreme in nature. Considered to be the most severe type, bipolar I can present differently in people as some experience more episodes of depression than mania, more episodes of mania than depression, or both mania and depression at the same time.

Bipolar II: Compared to bipolar I, bipolar II is a less severe form of bipolar disorder. Involving episodes of chronic depression, bipolar II’s episodes of emotional highs are hypomanic and do not cause the same level of disruption as mania.

Cyclothymic disorder: The mildest form of bipolar disorder is known as cyclothymic disorder. Still including episodes of depression and hypomania, this type’s symptoms occur less often and do not cause the degree of devastation that bipolar I and bipolar II can.

Treatment can vastly improve the lives of those who are grappling with the debilitating symptoms of bipolar disorder. Medications that can correct imbalanced chemicals within the brain and improve a person’s ability to regulate emotions, in addition to therapeutic interventions that help individuals learn how to manage symptoms and develop coping skills, have proven effectiveness in treating this illness. Lastly, treating bipolar disorder can reduce the harmful effects that are likely to occur when the symptoms of this disorder are left to consume a person’s life.


Bipolar disorder statistics

Research has concluded that nearly 3% of adults in the United States suffer from bipolar disorder, which accounts for almost 6 million Americans. Average age of onset for this mental disorder is 25, however signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder can occur at any age. Lastly, it is believed that those with a parent who suffer from bipolar disorder have a 15-25% greater likelihood of experiencing onset set of symptoms at some point in life.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for bipolar disorder

The onset of bipolar disorder is believed to be caused by a number of influences. A person’s genetic history, physiological make up, environment, and other risk factors are known to contribute to the development of this mental health condition. The following explanations elaborate on these influences:

Genetic: As with other mental health conditions, bipolar disorder is said to be a heritable illness as it can be found in individuals who share the same genes. Especially in those with a biological mother or father who have bipolar disorder, the vulnerability to developing this condition is higher when a family history of this disorder is present.

Physical: Bipolar disorder symptoms are believed to manifest when there are chemical imbalances in the brain. These chemicals, also known as neurotransmitters, are responsible for transmitting information within the brain and are liable for regulating emotions. Disproportionate levels of these chemicals can ultimately trigger the onset of bipolar disorder. Lastly, unstable hormones are also linked to the start of bipolar disorder in some people.

Environmental: When an individual has a genetic predisposition to bipolar disorder, certain environmental influences can trigger or exacerbate existing symptoms of bipolar disorder. A widely accepted belief among mental health professionals is that the use or abuse of drugs and/or alcohol can serve as an environmental trigger that can bring about symptoms of bipolar disorder earlier in a person’s life.

Risk Factors:  

  • Family history of bipolar disorder or other mental illness
  • Experiencing chronic stress or abrupt life changes
  • Exposure to trauma
  • Substance use or abuse

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder

Depending on the type of bipolar disorder that a person is experiencing, the signs and symptoms present can vary. When identifying the presence of bipolar symptoms, it is imperative to note not only the existence of such symptoms, but their severity as well. Examples of bipolar signs and symptoms are:

Behavioral symptoms:

Manic episode

  • Aggressive behaviors
  • Engages in risky behaviors
  • Acts on impulse
  • Hypersexuality
  • Rapid speech
  • Behaves in a grandiose manner or makes grandiose statements

Depressive episode

  • Is absent from work
  • Social isolation or withdrawal
  • Suicide attempts
  • Injuring oneself
  • Spends a lot of time in bed

Physical symptoms:

Manic episode

  • Frequent changes in body temperature
  • Decreased appetite
  • Not requiring sleep

Depressive episode

  • Presence of injuries due to self-injury
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Prolonged periods of sleeping

Cognitive symptoms:

Manic episode

  • Fleeting ideas
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Racing thoughts
  • Experiencing hallucinations

Depressive episode

  • Poor decision-making
  • Experiencing hallucinations
  • Poor concentration
  • Lack of clear thought processes

Psychosocial symptoms:

Manic episode

  • Increased irritability
  • Agitation
  • Inflated self-esteem
  • Feelings of invincibility
  • Episodes of exacerbated emotionality


Effects of bipolar disorder

When medication and therapeutic interventions are received, the symptoms of bipolar disorder can be manageable. However, cycling episodes of depression and mania can cause a number of debilitating effects for an individual with bipolar disorder if appropriate treatment is not implemented. The following effects are known to occur for those who do not seek care for this mental health condition:

  • Decline in quality and quantity of interpersonal relationships
  • Family discord
  • Impaired occupational functioning
  • Inability to acquire or maintain employment
  • Financial strife
  • Interaction with law enforcement
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Attempts at suicide / completed suicide

Co-Occurring Disorders

Bipolar disorder and co-occurring disorders

Because symptoms of bipolar disorder resemble symptoms associated with other mental health conditions, it is common for an additional mental disorder to be present in someone diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Listed are examples of such mental health conditions:

  • Substance use disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Specific phobias
  • Social anxiety disorder