Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Those who suffer from bipolar disorder have moods that swing like a pendulum. Extreme highs can turn into debilitating lows, often suddenly and with no apparent trigger. These rapid changes in disposition can affect energy levels and make it difficult to think clearly. It’s estimated that around 2.8% of U.S. adults struggle with this mental illness, though it’s believed that many cases go undiagnosed. Here’s everything you need to know about bipolar disorder.

Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Two Moods

The two sides of the bipolar coin are mania and depression.


The mania phase is characterized by increased mental and physical activity. Extreme cases may trigger psychosis (a loss of perception of reality).

Symptoms include:

  • Elevated energy levels and decreased need for sleep
  • Agitation
  • Euphoria
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Increased talkativeness and distractibility
  • Poor decision-making (impulsiveness)


Depressive episodes invoke a feeling of emptiness. They often put a chronic strain on day-to-day activities (work, school, relationships).

Symptoms include:

  • Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness, sometimes manifesting as irritability in children and teens
  • Loss of interest and energy
  • Weight fluctuations
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Slowed behavior
  • Suicidal thoughts


Bipolar disorder can be categorized by the frequency, duration, and intensity of episodes.

Bipolar I Disorder

The most extreme form. Manic episodes last for at least seven days. Major depressive episodes last for at least two weeks. Mixed episodes involving symptoms of both mania and depression are also possible. May require hospitalization.

Bipolar II Disorder

Similar to bipolar I, except the manic episodes are less severe (hypomania).

Cyclothymic Disorder

Also known as cyclothymia. Persistent manic and depressive episodes that are not intense enough to be classified as the types described above.


As of now, diagnosis is based on symptoms rather than brain imaging or any sort of diagnostic test.  There is still much to learn about the root cause of bipolar disorder, though research suggests that there is a genetic element to its development, being more likely to occur in those with a family history. Because of the broad range of symptoms, it can sometimes be difficult for mental health professionals to distinguish bipolar disorder from other mental illnesses.



Current medications only treat the symptoms of bipolar disorder rather than the source. The most commonly used drugs are mood stabilizers such as lithium or valproate. They help curb the frequency of mood swings, evening out one’s temperament. Because of the many side effects associated with these drugs, a thorough benefit vs risk analysis should be discussed with your doctor prior to use.


Also known as “talk therapy,” psychotherapy helps patients identify triggers and manage difficult emotions.  Mental health professionals provide a support network, offering compassion, education, and tools to combat the symptoms of bipolar disorder. It is often used in tandem with medication.

Let Us Help

If you or someone close to you is struggling with bipolar disorder, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Pandora’s House is dedicated to serving the community with diligent psychiatric care backed by sensitivity, understanding, and trust.  Click here to set up an initial consultation.