What Is Bipolar Disorder?

As its name implies, bipolar disorder describes a condition characterized by extremes in mood. The condition has historically been called manic depression. Someone suffering from bipolar disorder typically experiences significant shifts in mood that affect their ability to function in their day-to-day life. For instance, those in the manic phase may be overly excitable, have serious struggles with concentration and focus and experience loss of appetite, irritability and a decreased need for sleep. The person may also indulge in risky behavior and use poor judgment.

On the other end of the scale, those in the depressive phase of the disorder usually feel extremely sad, hopeless and worried. They may sleep too much or have trouble sleeping at all, speak slowly, experience difficulty making decisions and concentrating, feel worthless and fixate on suicide and/or death.

Both extremes seriously impact normal functionality, and those with bipolar disorder often struggle to maintain healthy relationships with family, friends, neighbors and coworkers. The three separate types of bipolar disorder in order of severity are bipolar I disorder, bipolar II disorder and cyclothymic disorder. Those whose symptoms don’t fall within the criteria for these three conditions but nonetheless experience significant mood fluctuations may be diagnosed as having unspecified bipolar disorder.

It’s estimated that approximately 5.7 million adults in the U.S. are currently affected by some form of bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder often causes extreme mood swings and periods of depression and mania. Learn more about this mood disorder and the available treatment options.

Signs and Symptoms of Bipolar

Bipolar disorder was historically called manic-depressive disorder, which is fairly descriptive of how the illness typically manifests. Signs of bipolar disorder are often more obvious to those close to the person with this mental illness. Bipolar symptoms manifest as periods of unusually intense emotions along with changes in sleep patterns and activity levels. During an episode, symptoms generally persist all day and often for weeks at a time. Bipolar depression is often more long-lasting than manic episodes. Bipolar 1 symptoms include manic episodes that last for at least 7 days and depressive episodes that persist for 2 weeks or more. Below is a chart detailing the types of symptoms that may occur during each type of episode.

Symptoms of Mania

  • Feeling more active or jumpy
  • Feeling very up or elated
  • Higher than normal energy
  • Over-the-top positivity and confidence
  • Energized and able to tackle lots of tasks before getting tired
  • Talking too fast and jumping around in conversation
  • Racing thoughts
  • Don’t need as much sleep
  • Feeling extremely irritable or touchy
  • A desire for lots of food/sex/other pleasurable activities
  • Feeling particularly talented or powerful
  • Unusual confidence and talkative
  • Easily distracted
  • Poor decision making/impulse control

Symptoms of Depression

  • Feeling very down/sad/low energy
  • Feeling restless
  • Feeling anxious
  • Troubled sleep cycle, difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or getting enough sleep
  • Talking slowly, feeling at a loss for words or forgetting what you were about to say
  • Concentration and decision-making issues
  • Unable to start even simple tasks
  • No interest in most activities
  • Suicidal ideation and/or feeling worthless/hopeless

How Is Bipolar Diagnosed?

Diagnosing bipolar disorder is usually a multipart process. First, a doctor will rule out physical causes for the symptoms using an exam, interview and lab tests. These tests help eliminate issues such as hyperthyroidism, which can have many similar symptoms. When a doctor can’t identify a physical cause, they’ll often refer you to a mental health care provider. Some doctors may perform a psychological evaluation if they have the credentials and expertise to do so.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is the guide mental health care professionals use to determine if a patient has bipolar disorder and what type they have. For any bipolar diagnosis, a patient must have a history that includes at least one episode of mania or hypomania. Symptom presentation and the person’s level of impairment can then help guide the final diagnosis.

Benefits of Treating Bipolar

With the right combination of medication, psychological counseling, support and self-care, people with bipolar disorder can live healthy lives. Others unfamiliar with the person’s diagnosis may not notice that they have bipolar disorder when the illness is well-controlled. In some instances, treatment can reduce the severity of episodes or even delay their onset, making them less frequent.

How Bipolar Disorder Is Treated

Because the disorder affects everyone differently, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to treatment. However, those with bipolar disorder can usually live healthy, productive and active lives if they receive the right medical care. Bipolar disorder is typically diagnosed during the teen or young adult stage of life, although older adults can live with the condition for many years before seeking treatment. The median age for the onset of bipolar disorder is 25 years old.

Effective treatment plans generally utilize a customized combination of the following approaches.

Medical Integration

The first step in living with bipolar disorder is to receive a complete physical examination to rule out any kind of physiologically based issue that may be causing the symptoms. Examples of diseases that may cause symptoms that resemble those of bipolar disorder include lupus, thyroid disease, HIV and certain types of infections. Other contributing factors may be substance abuse, as well as other types of psychiatric problems that include borderline personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

After physical and other psychiatric causes are ruled out, the primary physician typically refers the patient to a psychiatrist for a psychiatric assessment. The patient must show a pattern of unusual fluctuations in mood that include both manic and depressive episodes and meet the criteria for bipolar as described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.


Also known as talk therapy, psychotherapy involves the exploration of feelings, thoughts and patterns of behavior that cause problems with relationships, family, work and daily functioning. Psychotherapy helps patients identify issues and learn better coping mechanisms, cultivate a positive self-image and stay on their prescribed medication.

Support Groups

Support groups provide those who struggle with bipolar disorder the opportunity to engage with others who are facing similar challenges. Many feel less isolated and alone as a result of participating in support groups. They also have access to different perspectives that may help them refine their coping strategies as well as gain emotional support from others who truly understand what they’re going through.

Loved ones of those with bipolar disorder may also benefit from joining support groups. Regularly talking with people in their situation helps them learn coping mechanisms and gain understanding of the condition. These groups also provide a safe place to vent about the challenges that are often involved in living with someone with bipolar disorder.


Mood stabilizers are considered the main cornerstone of treating bipolar disorder with prescription medication. These drugs are typically prescribed shortly after the initial diagnosis to stabilize the patient as quickly as possible. Along with mood stabilizers, antianxiety drugs and antidepressants are sometimes prescribed. Types of medication and dosages often involve a period of trial and error to find the right combination.

Lifestyle Adjustments

Maintaining regular sleep schedules and establishing consistency in everyday routines help those with bipolar disorder manage their symptoms and over time may decrease the need for prescription medication. Because stress may trigger episodes of mania or depression, relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, deep breathing exercises and journaling are also recommended. Other healthy habits include eating a nutritious, well-balanced diet and getting physical exercise on a regular basis.

Some patients with bipolar disorder find that having an emotional support or psychiatric service animal helps them manage their symptoms. Emotional support animals provide companionship and emotional support, while psychiatric service animals are trained to perform tasks such as reminding you when it’s time to take your medication, go to bed and get up at specified times to maintain a healthy sleep schedule and bringing you the phone to call support people in the event of emotional distress.

Can Bipolar Disorder Be Cured?

Medical science has not found a cure for bipolar disorder. It’s a long-term condition that requires management for the duration of the patient’s life. However, with the right combination of prescription medication, healthy lifestyle choices and therapy, many of those who affected by bipolar disorder live fulfilling lives.

Living With Bipolar Disorder

Long-term management strategies include developing and maintaining a good work/life balance, sticking to a treatment plan, developing healthy habits and cultivating positive relations with family and friends. One of the most important factors in the long-term management of this condition is consistency, so it’s essential for patients to continue with their treatment program even if they feel they no longer need it. As time goes by, the patient typically learns to identify triggers of incoming mood swings and utilize proven strategies for managing them.

Contact Restore for More Information

At Restore, we’re familiar with the challenges involved in establishing and maintaining a normal daily routine while experiencing bipolar disorder. We also know that with the right diagnosis and treatment program, those with this condition can still live good lives. Please feel free to contact us through our convenient online form or by calling (877) 594-3566 if you suspect you or a loved one is suffering from bipolar disorder or any other mental health condition that’s impacting the ability to live a happy and productive life. Someone is standing by 24 hours a day waiting to talk with you about beginning your journey to a better life.