Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression, is a mental illness characterized by sweeping changes in mood. These changes can range from “high” feelings of intense excitement to “low” feelings of despair. There are four types of bipolar disorder: bipolar I, bipolar II, cyclothymic disorder (also known as cyclothymia), and bipolar disorder unspecified. While all types share basic symptoms, each type is diagnosed based on length and intensity of mood swings.

It can be difficult to pinpoint bipolar disorder because everyone at some time or another gets very happy or very sad. So how can you distinguish between the normal swings of emotion and bipolar disorder? Consider these common signs and symptoms.

Manic Episodes and Mania


The mania stage of bipolar disorder is a very high-energy state. During a manic episode, speech could quicken. People with bipolar disorder might not finish sentences and bounce from topic to topic rapidly. Reckless and dangerous actions, like spending beyond their means or drinking excessively, is another sign of a manic episode.

Depressive Episodes

A depressive episode isn’t just about feeling sad. Being upset by a breakup or grieving a difficult loss are natural, healthy responses. For people with bipolar disorder, a depressive episode can make going about daily life a struggle. They often feel unmotivated and easily irritated. Daily decisions that were once taken for granted, such as what to wear, become nearly impossible to make.

Changes in Typical Behaviors


Another sign of bipolar disorder is a marked change in behavior. The person who once functioned on seven hours of sleep suddenly stays in bed for twice that, for weeks at a time, then catapults into all-night episodes of talking and activity. Look for complete departures in conduct and in personality. When someone is having a bipolar episode, their bodily needs and former ways of interacting with others alter dramatically.

Disrupted Sleep Schedule

A common symptom of bipolar disorder is a change in sleeping patterns. Bipolar mania causes loss of sleep. Bipolar depression can cause a loss of sleep, too. Depression may also cause someone to sleep for hours during times of the day they’d previously functioned normally.

Social Problems

Common Signs Bipolar

Bipolar disorder can cause problems in a person’s social life. People with bipolar disorder can have trouble keeping jobs or staying in relationships. Teens with bipolar disorder may get suspended from school or drop out altogether. They often engage in new, high-risk behaviors like damaging longtime friendships.

Thoughts of Self-Harm


The Treatment Advocacy Center, a nonprofit that lobbies on behalf of those with mental illness, points out that suicide is the first cause of premature death among people with bipolar disorder. During episodes of intense feelings, it can be hard for people with bipolar disorder to shake the idea of self-harm.

Unfinished Tasks

Many of us don’t complete tasks from time to time. Maybe you spend the afternoon raking leaves but just can’t get around to bagging them. That’s normal. Someone suffering from bipolar disorder could leave just about any task unfinished, most of the time. This could happen during a manic episode, because the mind is jumping from one idea to another quickly. It could also occur in a depressive episode when determination and self-confidence are often at an all-time low.


Dr. Hammond

Bipolar disorder is considered chronic. If you or someone you love is experiencing symptoms of bipolar disorder, you can begin a search for treatment with your family doctor. From there, a mental health professional can help you understand treatment options, find a therapist, and help you adjust to medicines.