Understanding the Different Types of Bipolar Disorder

Types of Bipolar Disorder

Types of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is probably not what you have seen on television or witnessed in movies. Most likely it is not what other people have told you. It is even possible that bipolar disorder is not what you have read about online.

If someone is happy one minute and sad or irritable the next, acts one way in certain situations and another way in others, or becomes really angry without warning, it does not mean they have bipolar disorder.

So, what is bipolar disorder? To begin, bipolar disorder is a more modern term for manic depression. They are the same diagnosis, so if someone diagnoses you with manic depression, you may want to consider a more up-to-date source of information and treatment.

Primary Types of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder generally means someone has periods of depressive episodes and periods of manic or hypomanic episodes. During the period of depression, the person will have at least five of the following symptoms most of the time during a two-week period:

  • Depressed mood with hopelessness, sadness or increased irritability.
  • Decreased interest in pleasurable activities and events.
  • Decreased appetite and/or notable reduction in weight without trying.
  • Significantly increased or decreased sleep.
  • Feeling or looking sped up or slowed down.
  • Lacking energy.
  • Excessive feelings of guilt and worthlessness.
  • Lower ability to concentrated or mark good choices.
  • Thoughts of death and suicide.

These symptoms will have a substantial impact on the life of the person with depression.

If you are observing a person during their depressed episode, you could see a variety of signs marked by changes in their behaviors or thoughts. A person in a depressed episode could talk about life being a terrible experience, they may report feeling like they’d be better off dead, or they could feel awful about every facet of their life.


A depressed person could lay on the couch for days at a time, lose interest in cooking, cleaning, and changing their clothes, or refuse to leave the house. They might cut off all communication with you and their other friends and family.

In the worst situations, someone with depression will display serious thoughts of death and suicide. They may plan their own death or even make an attempt to kill themselves.

The depressive episode can last for as little as two weeks or as long as several months.

Following the episode, the person will return to a period of expected functioning, or they will transition into a manic/hypomanic episode. A manic episode is a period lasting for a week with at least four of the following symptoms, as well as a mood that is highly elevated or irritable:

  • Exaggeratedly high self-esteem.
  • Less need for sleep.
  • Increased speech and faster rate of speech.
  • Moving quickly from one idea to the next.
  • Easily distracted.
  • Increased desire to accomplish goals.
  • Being involved in activities that are risky or dangerous.

Just like depressive episodes, manic episodes can be frightening to the outside observer. If your loved one is manic, they will go days without eating or sleeping, they will constantly be occupied with an outlandish thought, or they will engage in a series of risky behaviors.

During a manic episode, a person may have sex with many random partners, use drugs, participate in dangerous physical stunts, or drive recklessly with no regard for safety. Although these behaviors are risky, the person will feel completely safe and in control of their situation.

A person in a manic episode will find it very difficult to concentrate at home, work, or school. They may be frequently absent, suspended, or disciplined for their uncontrollable behaviors.

Bipolar II Disorder

If someone has ever met the criteria for a depressive episode and the manic episode described above, they likely have bipolar I disorder. Bipolar II disorder is marked by having depressive episodes, but the manic symptoms do not meet the requirement for a manic episode based on the number or duration of symptoms.

If symptoms persist for less than seven days but more than four, the person meets the definition of hypomanic episodes. Hypomanic episodes are shorter and generally less intense than manic episodes, but they still can create many unwanted effects on someone’s life.

Someone with bipolar II will have periods of erratic or unpredictability, but the hazards are not usually as great as someone with a full-blown manic episode. People with bipolar II may have more insight into their condition and the changing symptoms, meaning they can recognize the presence of the hypomania and take practical steps to correct the issue.

Cyclothymic Disorder

If the requirements for bipolar I and bipolar II do not seem to match someone’s symptoms, a cyclothymic disorder is another option. In this disorder, someone will experience moods that change from depressed to hypomanic without ever meeting enough symptoms to qualify for bipolar I or II. With cyclothymic disorder, the symptoms must continue for a period of two years.

Just as bipolar II is a lesser version of bipolar I, cyclothymia is a lesser version of bipolar II. Though cyclothymia is commonly less intense than the other conditions, it still has the power to significantly disrupt a person’s life.

Someone with cyclothymia may find it easier to go to work, go to school, and maintain relationships than someone with bipolar disorder. Remember, every condition affects people differently, so one person could really struggle from cyclothymia while another could find it only a minor inconvenience.

Next page: More information on types of bipolar disorder and the importance of receiving a proper diagnosis.

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