Bipolar, Mental Illness

The Truth About Bipolar Disorder

By Lindsey M.

When most people hear “bipolar disorder,” they think of people suffering from intense, uncontrollable mood swings. One moment they’re extremely happy, and in the blink-of-an-eye, they’re suddenly depressed, sometimes without any certain cause. But, that isn’t necessarily the case.

Classifications of Bipolar Disorder

Just like any illness, bipolar disorder presents itself in many ways.

Bipolar I Disorder is classified by manic episodes lasting at least seven days and possibly includes depressive episodes. Bipolar II is categorized by depressive and hypomanic episodes. The difference between hypomanic and manic episodes is the severity of the mania, with manic episodes being more intense. Not all individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorder cycle between mania and depression. Some just experience mania without the depressive episodes to follow.

Another, lesser-known classification of bipolar disorder is named Cyclothymia, which is characterized by hypomanic and depressive episodes over a two-year period. However, it does not meet the diagnostic qualifications for either of the types mentioned above. The final category is any other disorders with related bipolar symptoms.

Manic & Depressive Episodes

So maybe you’re wondering, “What is ‘mania?’ What does it feel like? Is it just intense happiness?” Well, not exactly. Mania manifests differently for different people. It can include different symptoms such as racing thoughts, increased energy or activity levels, the sensation of being “high,” engaging in risky behavior, trouble sleeping, and general irritability. The context of depressive episodes may be more familiar. They can include feeling sad, loss of hope, loss of interest in things, decreased energy levels, anxiety, loss of appetite, fatigue, trouble with concentrating, and suicidal thoughts, in extreme cases.

Another common misconception is that these changes in mood occur rapidly during a day or week. While this is true for some, most diagnosed individuals shift more slowly from episode to episode. Manic, hypomanic, or depressive episodes can sometimes last for weeks at a time before cycling. People with Bipolar II Disorder sometimes don’t feel anything is wrong, experiencing productivity and an elevated mood with their hypomanic episodes. Although individuals may not think that they have a problem, it is important to seek treatment to prevent the development of full manic episodes.

Bipolar disorder is a spectrum of symptoms. It may sometimes be diagnosed as major depression or ignored.

To learn more about Bipolar Disorder, visit the National Institute of Mental Health.


Do you live with bipolar disorder?  What positive ways have you found to help you cope?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Image courtesy of Yahoo! Lifestyle.

5 thoughts on “The Truth About Bipolar Disorder”

    1. Hi, SHB:

      Unfortunately, the American Psychological Association names most things involving mental health. That being said, we were trying to think of other conditions that involve the word “disorder” and were having a pretty tough time thinking of any that were outside the mental health arena. I think your point is spot on.

      -The Bars Team


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