This site is intended for healthcare professionals
Although there are different types of bipolar disorder, what they have in common are a disruption to mood causing distress to the individual experiencing the symptoms which may also impact on relationships, work and social life.
For a diagnosis of bipolar disorder to be given, a clinician would look for repeated episodes of an individual’s mood and activity being disturbed. This would include both:
periods of severe low mood and inactivity
periods of high energy, activity and elevated mood
Bipolar type 1 is defined by mania being extreme and often involving psychosis, where a person’s reality becomes altered.
With bipolar type 2, the mania does not usually involve psychotic episodes and is often referred to as hypomania.
What does mania or hypomania look like?
As with all mental health conditions, the experience of a disorder varies according to the individual, but there are common symptoms to look out for regarding mania and hypomania:
Greatly increased energy levels, often accompanied by a lesser need for sleep
Feelings of being invincible and able to take on the world
Being highly creative and full of ideas, but often unable to concentrate on one project or task long enough to complete it
Having racing thoughts
High levels of anxiety and restlessness – you may be unable to keep still or sit down for any length of time
Talking incessantly and rapidly, sometimes so quickly that those around you cannot follow what you are saying
Lowered inhibitions and risk-taking behaviour – this might mean spending large sums of money on expensive items, having a lot of sexual experiences due to an increased libido or behaving in a way that is out of character or does not conform with social expectations
I cannot stress enough how debilitating my manic episodes are for me. Afterwards it's like starting your life from scratch all over again with all the shame and damaged pride, not to mention the emptiness and worthlessness you feel.
It is this last symptom that can often be the most damaging for people who are experiencing a hypomanic or manic episode and can lead to debt, damaging relationships with friends and family, deep embarrassment and regret when remembering the behaviour after a manic episode, and sometimes getting in trouble with the authorities.
A diagnosis of bipolar disorder will usually be given by a psychiatrist, but a GP may be the first professional to encounter someone presenting with bipolar symptoms and would then make a referral to a mental health specialist.
It’s important to gain a diagnosis from a trained professional so that you can receive the right treatment and support. If you recognise the symptoms of bipolar disorder in yourself or are worried about a relative or friend, it’s best to book an appointment with your GP to discuss this further.