Understanding the Different Types of Bipolar Disorder

Jan 16, 2024
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Bipolar disorder is known for its extreme swings between mania and depression. But that’s only one type of bipolar disorder, and there are three distinct types. Though they all cause mood swings, their symptoms differ in severity and frequency.

Bipolar disorder sounds like it’s one mental health disorder, but it’s an umbrella term for three conditions: bipolar I disorder, bipolar II disorder, and cyclothymic disorder (which is part of the bipolar family, even if it sounds unrelated).

Swings in mood and energy define all three, yet your symptom severity and how often your mood swings depend on the type.  

Kevin Joseph, DNP, PMHNP-BC, at Insight Psychiatric Services, believes in the importance of teaching patients about their mental health disorders, an approach that’s especially crucial for understanding bipolar disorders.

Reading about the three types of bipolar disorder may help you recognize the symptoms sooner, allowing you to seek help earlier, stabilize mood swings, and enhance your ability to thrive.

Bipolar I disorder defined

Bipolar I disorder causes the extreme mood swings of mania and depression that most people associate with bipolar disorder. But mania is the defining quality of bipolar I disorder.

You may have major depression before or after your first manic episode. And most people experience swings between mania and major depressive disorder. But you don’t need to have a depressive episode. You’re diagnosed with bipolar I disorder after having a manic episode.

Bipolar I symptoms

The manic episodes of bipolar I disorder last a week or longer, causing high energy or irritability most days, nearly all day. Full-blown mania makes it impossible to meet your work, family, and social responsibilities.

In many cases, mania causes such severe symptoms that people need temporary hospitalization to start medication and stabilize their mood.

During a manic episode, you may also have several of the following:

  • Needing little to no sleep
  • Having constant energy (despite your lack of sleep)
  • Talking rapidly or excessively
  • Being highly distractible
  • Having uncontrollable racing thoughts (or quickly changing topics when speaking)
  • Increasing your activity level  (working on multiple projects simultaneously)
  • Engaging in risky behaviors (e.g., reckless driving, spending sprees, substance abuse)

Some people experience hallucinations and delusions during mania. Delusions are false beliefs (believing you’re a king or someone controls your thoughts). If you have hallucinations, you hear, smell, see, taste, or feel something that doesn’t exist.

Bipolar I depression is the same as major depressive disorder (MDD), which means you have several of the following symptoms:

  • Feeling sad, hopeless, worthless, or guilty
  • Losing interest in activities you usually enjoy
  • Having little to no energy
  • Sleeping more or less
  • Eating more or less
  • Moving slowly and aimlessly
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Thinking about death or suicide

Symptoms last two weeks or longer, and during that time, you feel depressed most days.

Bipolar II disorder

Bipolar II disorder causes at least one major depressive and one hypomanic episode. Your depression is the same as bipolar I disorder. Hypomania causes the same symptoms as mania, but they’re less severe and don’t cause dysfunction or problems in your daily life.

Hypomania causes a noticeable increase in energy and activity lasting at least four consecutive days. But it usually feels like a positive change that helps you focus and accomplish more.

Cyclothymic disorder

Cyclothymic disorder causes episodes of hypomania and mild depression. Though your symptoms are less severe, this type of bipolar disorder still causes significant distress and disruption in your life because you have frequent mood swings for at least two years.

Over two years, you have many distinct hypomanic and depressive episodes at least half the time. You won’t go longer than two months without symptoms.

While many people recover from cyclothymic disorder, it increases your risk of developing bipolar I or II disorder. 

Expert treatment for bipolar disorder

Medication management is essential for treating bipolar disorder. Mood-stabilizing medications improve the balance of brain chemicals, stabilize your moods, and help prevent future mood swings.

We understand the challenges of bipolar disorder and offer exceptional medication management to restore your balance. Contact our Sunrise, Florida, office, to schedule an in-office or telemedicine visit.