Bipolar disorder can cause extreme swings in moods. Symptoms of both bipolar depression and bipolar mania can be severe.
Bipolar disorder symptoms: extreme mood shifts are the hallmark
Bipolar disorder is a condition that can cause extreme swings in mood—from manic highs to depressive lows. Most people with bipolar disorder experience more lows (known as “bipolar depression”) than highs while they are ill or symptomatic.
To be diagnosed with bipolar disorder you must have experienced a high period (mania or hypomania) as well. If your highs never reach manic levels, but you get low often, it’s more likely that you have a depressive disorder.
- Bipolar depression is a “low” kind of mood. During an episode of bipolar depression, people may lose interest in things they used to enjoy, feel sad, or feel worthless or guilty
- It’s also common to be slower in thinking and movements. A person may have less energy and need more sleep than usual
- Bipolar mania is a “high” mood. During a manic high, people may feel unusually great. It’s common to be overly talkative, have lots of energy, and need little sleep. Some people may go to extremes sexually, financially, or socially
An episode of depression or mania typically lasts for days, weeks, or maybe even months. In very rare cases, depressive moods can last for a year or longer.
A person with untreated bipolar disorder may have more than 10 total episodes of depression and mania during his or her lifetime. Between these episodes, you may have mild mood swings or no obvious symptoms at all.
Even if you’re feeling symptom free, you still have bipolar disorder. But with proper treatment, these “normal” periods can be expanded.
Learning to recognize the signs and symptoms of bipolar depression and mania is crucial. In my case, I kept a journal to help me recognize the signs that a change was coming on. That helped me learn ways to “interrupt” the pattern.
And having an open and honest dialogue with your therapist or doctor about your experiences is essential to getting an accurate diagnosis and finding an appropriate treatment plan.
Unresolved symptoms of depression
Bipolar disorder can be missed as a diagnosis because the symptoms of bipolar depression—the phase that people with the illness tend to spend most of their time in when they are ill—are similar to those of other types of depression.
The key difference is that to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, in addition to depressive symptoms, a person must have experienced a period of mania or hypomania as well. Many of us fail to recognize episodes of hypomania, confusing it with just feeling healthy, and that can lead to a faulty diagnosis.
If you, or someone you know, is being treated for depression but continues to have depression symptoms, it’s worth a conversation with a doctor. Bipolar depression is more common than you may think. And an accurate diagnosis is the first step toward a more appropriate treatment.