Bipolar Disorder Types, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

Bipolar disorder is often referred to as experiencing emotional “ups” and “downs,” however this broad description doesn’t accurately reflect or encompass the depth of this disorder.  Most people can admit to having some level of mood swings, so how can someone differentiate between fluctuating emotions and bipolar disorder?

Bipolar Disorder Causes Disruption to Daily Life

A break up happens and the wounded one finds herself feeling pretty down.  Eventually, time passes, the mood improves and life goes on. For people living with bipolar disorder, they cycle through intense elevated periods called mania and severe low periods called depression. These uncontrollable, unpredictable mood shifts normally disrupt the daily life of those with bipolar disorder.

Imagine feeling euphoria. You are on top of the world. But those feelings can’t be truly embraced because you know at some point the crash will occur. Your life plummets into a depressive state. The elation you once experienced is extinguished and replaced with suicidal thoughts, feelings of fatigue and apathy toward life.  It can feel like the world is coming to an end. Living with bipolar disorder can be similar to this.

Getting Familiar With Bipolar Disorder

It’s common to hear someone say,  “You are acting bipolar!” This assessment is often made incorrectly and is a contributing factor to why true bipolar disorder can be so difficult to identify.  Constantly changing your mind does not make you bipolar, nor does instant mood switching.

Three Bipolar Disorder Types

In general, this condition can be separated into three distinct bipolar disorder types: Bipolar I, Bipolar II, and cyclothymia. Bipolar I is the classic, high-highs and low-lows. Bipolar II is an experience of hypomania (an elevated mood but not complete mania) and deep depression. Cyclothymia is a long-term cycling between periods of elevated and depressed mood, but never full mania or full depressive episodes over the course of years.

Everyone who suffers from bipolar disorder experiences it in a unique way. It’s possible that no two experiences are alike since the different stages of bipolar disorder create signs and symptoms that vary from person to person. If you recognize any of these signs or symptoms, or a loved one points them out to you, seeing a professional therapist is the best action to take to discuss how to manage the disorder and live a healthy life.

Signs of Bipolar Disorder

What are the signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder? Here are a few signs that what you’re experiencing could be categorized as bipolar disorder.  Remember, bipolar disorder can be challenging to pinpoint. Discussing your concerns with a therapist is the best choice if any of these symptoms resonate with you.


A person who is in a depressive bipolar state will mirror a person with depression. This means the person could show signs of sorrow, lack of energy, decreased appetite, and loss of focus. Either a depressed state or a loss of interest in pleasure must be present in order to make a diagnosis.

You don’t have to cry copious amounts of tears to fit the depressed category. Depression tends to bring a general detachment from life and its events. You may see a few other changes like feeling exhausted all the time, feelings of inappropriate guilt, anxiety, and an unhealthy fixation on death.


What separates bipolar disorder from major depressive disorder is the presence of a “manic episode.” The DSM-IV summarizes a manic episode as “ a distinct period of abnormally and persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood, lasting at least one week (or any duration if hospitalization is necessary).”

1. Inflated ego

During a manic phase, the person might appear overconfident or borderline narcissistic.

2. No need for sleep

You feel rested after two hours of sleep or have no physical desire to sleep.

3. Excessive talking

Bipolar disorder causes rapid talking that’s almost impossible to interrupt. The person will incessantly talk over others.

4. Racing thoughts

A person with bipolar disorder will jump from idea to idea or topic to topic. It appears their mind is going in a million different directions simultaneously and can become easily distracted. It seems impossible to slow down the racing thoughts.

5. Impulse activities

A manic episode will bring impulses from going out on a shopping spree to engaging in a sexual activity that’s not consistent with who the person is.

These behaviors often seem great in the moment, but quickly take over and become unmanageable.

The Subtypes of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar I experiences the maximum highs, but Bipolar II experiences only a “hypomania.” The moods aren’t as elevated, and the minimum length of an episode to qualify is four days rather than a week.

People experiencing hypomania can usually stick to their normal routines but with more of an emphasis on focused energy. With Bipolar I you may have only experienced the highs, but with Bipolar II it’s implied that you have experienced a major depressive state.

Cyclothymia is a more mild combination of hypomania with some depression. Your elevated mood might be more enjoyable because it’s not turning into destructive behaviors and your depression still allows you to function in day-to-day activities. It’s normally less intense than bipolar disorder but can still cause emotional distress over time.

What Are the Treatment Options For Bipolar Disorder?

Usually, treatment involves a combination of therapy and medication to target the problematic experiences. Some medications, such as antidepressants, can make mania worse. An antidepressant coupled with a mood stabilizer can help create stability and even out emotions.

Therapy complements the prescribed medication. Bipolar disorder doesn’t go away completely, but talking through bipolar disorder with a therapist can help to sharpen coping skills and teach you the tools to use when you sense an episode coming.  Family-focused therapy can be helpful to allow those closest to you learn about bipolar disorder and how to best support you. Incorporating your family in your journey can empower those around you to help you cope with the bipolar episode.

Don’t self-diagnose over the internet. If you found yourself nodding along to any of these signs, please make an appointment with Christian Counseling Newport Beach to discuss your symptoms with a  therapist who is qualified to diagnose disorders. Living with bipolar disorder can be confusing and frightening, but by following a tailored treatment plan you can move forward, feeling more confident in your ability to manage the disorder.

“Upset,” courtesy of Ben White,, CC0 License; “Concerned,” courtesy of Rahul Anil,, CC0 License; “Feeling Down,” courtesy of Patrick Denker, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Beach Run,” courtesy of Jacob Miller,, CC0 License