This article contains subject matter some readers may find distressing, including manic and depressive episodes, self-harm, and suicide. Your mental health always comes first. Please proceed with care.

Bipolar disorder is a chronic mental health condition characterized by sudden shifts in mood. This manifests in a combination of depressive, manic, or hypomanic episodes. There are several types of bipolar disorder, but the most common are bipolar I and bipolar II.

If you’ve received a bipolar disorder diagnosis, it can be hard to prioritize treatment. Maybe you feel your symptoms are under your control right now. Or maybe your moods are too overwhelming, and you can’t imagine reaching out to anyone.

But without care, your quality of life can go down, and other serious health concerns may appear.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the risks of untreated bipolar disorder include:

Bipolar disorder is very treatable. And it’s also a long-term condition that won’t resolve on its own. We’ll go over the impacts of unmanaged bipolar disorder in more detail, including symptoms of mood episodes and treatment options.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) estimates that 4.4 percent of people in the United States will have bipolar disorder at some point in their lives, with the majority of cases considered “severe.” This means the condition has significant impacts on their quality of life and ability to function.

According to 2013 research, bipolar disorder treatment focuses on both addressing acute symptoms (happening right now) and helping maintain stability (happening in the long term).

Treatment isn’t a guarantee that bipolar disorder will suddenly go away. But medication, types of therapy, and other approaches can help manage symptoms. They can also prevent bipolar disorder from having worse effects on your life and health.

Personal life

Bipolar disorder can cause challenges with thinking and emotions for the person who is experiencing it. But it can also have an impact on their ability to interact with others.

For example, someone who is experiencing a depressive episode of bipolar disorder may isolate themselves and show less interest in their usual activities.

Bipolar disorder is often associated with having difficulty socializing and becoming cut off. People with bipolar disorder can have poor social functioning, according to 2013 research. This affects their ability to maintain friendships, form relationships, and be part of a larger social network.

Bipolar disorder can affect marriages, too. Research is ongoing, but a 2017 review highlighted that people with bipolar disorder may experience higher marital and sexual dissatisfaction and higher divorce rates.

Additionally, bipolar disorder can have negative effects on spouses and caregivers. Caring for someone with bipolar disorder — especially when it is not being treated and managed — often means time away from work and increased stress.

A 2021 research review on couple functioning found that spouses of people with bipolar disorder often expressed dissatisfaction in their relationships. They reported their relationships had a high demand on their mental and physical health and involved self-sacrifice.

However, authors of the above review also explained that bipolar disorder didn’t necessarily only have negative impacts on relationships. In one middle-aged couple where the wife had a bipolar 1 diagnosis, amidst the many challenges it brought the relationship, researchers also found “personal evolution, [a] strengthening relationship, and new goals and ideals for living together.”

More research is needed to understand the complex, individualized ways bipolar disorder affects different relationships.


Living with untreated bipolar disorder can affect your ability to:

  • search for work
  • stay employed
  • perform your job functions

A 2017 study of 129 people with bipolar disorder centered on the condition’s social workplace impacts. The authors found that participants were more likely to experience unemployment, be depressed at work, and have conflicts with co-workers.

People with bipolar disorder are also more likely to have work productivity issues and be absent from work. According to the Center for Workplace Mental Health, they miss an average of 18.9 workdays in a year, compared with 7.4 days per year for people without bipolar disorder.

Mental health risks

Not treating bipolar disorder is associated with increased risks of suicide attempts and mood episode severity, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Suicide is the major factor for decreased life expectancy in people with bipolar disorder. This is especially true if the condition is untreated.

People with bipolar disorder have a substantially higher rate of suicide than those without the condition. A 2019 review of suicide risk research for people with bipolar disorder reported:

  • The suicide rate of people with bipolar disorder is 10 to 30 times higher than the general population’s rate.
  • Between 20 and 60 percent of people with bipolar disorder attempt suicide at least once in their lives.
  • Up to 20 percent of people with bipolar disorder die by suicide.

Experts agree timely treatment is key to preventing suicide in people with bipolar disorder. Medication, therapy, lifestyle changes, and a strong support network can all play a part.

Help is out there

If you or someone you know is in crisis and considering suicide or self-harm, please seek support:

If you’re calling on behalf of someone else, stay with them until help arrives. You may remove weapons or substances that can cause harm if you can do so safely.

If you are not in the same household, stay on the phone with them until help arrives.

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Bipolar disorder can look different for each person. However, it’s mainly characterized by shifts in mood that affect your ability to function in daily life. According to the NIMH, people with bipolar disorder experience a combination of depressive episodes and either manic or hypomanic episodes.

The frequency and severity of episodes depend on what type of bipolar disorder you have.

Learn more about types of bipolar disorder.

Manic episodes

Manic episodes are characterized by heightened energy and elevated mood. During a manic episode, you may feel invincible and on top of the world. While mania is stereotypically associated with productivity and “creative genius,” it has serious health risks and shouldn’t be romanticized.

A person experiencing a manic episode can behave recklessly, make irresponsible financial decisions, or neglect eating and sleeping. Mania can have physical symptoms, too, including talking nonstop and restlessness, also known as psychomotor agitation. Severe mania may include psychotic episodes, such as hearing voices or experiencing hallucinations.

Hypomania is similar to mania. The symptoms are generally more subdued, though, making hypomania harder to spot. This form of bipolar disorder, called bipolar II disorder, is more difficult to diagnose.

Learn more about manic and hypomanic episodes.

Depressive episodes

According to NAMI, a depressive episode of bipolar disorder is different from just feeling blue. During an episode, you may experience hopelessness, guilt, or feelings of failure. Your sadness may be so overwhelming that it seems impossible to get out of bed.

Depressive episodes are linked to higher rates of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.

It can be particularly hard to get help for your bipolar disorder when in a depressive state. That’s why it’s important to have a strong support network and to create a treatment plan even if you feel perfectly stable. Don’t wait until episodes become severe before seeking help.

Learn more about bipolar depression.

The NIMH says long-term medication regimens and talk therapy in particular are associated with fewer symptoms of bipolar disorder and higher quality of life.

A 2016 review has found that treatment for bipolar disorder works best in the early stages of the condition. This is why it’s important to get help as soon as you notice symptoms. However, it’s never too late to start managing your bipolar disorder. Treatment has the potential to bring positive changes at any stage of life.

The following approaches are all used to treat bipolar disorder.


Taking a daily medication can help stabilize your moods, reducing the severity of depression and mania symptoms.

Commonly prescribed medications for bipolar disorder are:

  • lithium
  • anticonvulsants
  • antipsychotic medications

It’s important to always take your medication as directed by your doctor. Like all medications, treatments for bipolar disorder can have side effects. Some people need to try more than one medication before they find one that works for them.

While medication is still considered the gold standard for treating bipolar disorder, it works best with other therapies.


Multiple types of therapy are used in the treatment of bipolar disorder. According to the NAMI, treatment usually includes talk therapy, also called psychotherapy. Some specific types of talk therapy used to treat bipolar disorder are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and family-focused therapy

Combining medication with therapy can help people with bipolar disorder recover and stay stable long term. It’s important to find a therapist you trust, one who has experience working with bipolar disorder.

Lifestyle changes

Bipolar disorder comes with a high risk of substance use disorders and sleep disorders. For mental and physical stability, it can be essential to:

Having a strong social support network is a key component for anyone managing a mental illness. You deserve to feel loved and encouraged!

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Moods are a part of being human. Most people experience ups and downs due to the events in their lives. But bipolar disorder is more than fleeting emotions. If you are experiencing mood swings that interfere with your emotional state or your daily life, reach out to a doctor.

Your primary care doctor can evaluate your symptoms and refer you to a mental health professional. Or, you can look for therapists directly.

Some people prefer to confide in family and friends first. It’s important to remember that an emotional support network is essential, but it is not a substitute for professional care.

There are several obstacles to receiving a bipolar disorder diagnosis, including:

You’re not alone, and having bipolar disorder isn’t your fault. You deserve the care and resources you need to heal and thrive.

Bipolar disorder can affect all aspects of your life, including your personal relationships and your job. If untreated, bipolar disorder can have even more significant impacts on your mental health and increase your risk of suicide.

The good news is that bipolar disorder is very treatable, and many people experience quality of life improvements with treatment. Medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes can all work together for the best possible outcome.

Having bipolar disorder may present challenges, but you can still live a fulfilling life with this condition. With treatment, many people with bipolar disorder can access greater degrees of stability and functionality. And remember, it’s never too late to reach out for help.