Bipolar Disorder

Symptoms | Causes | Diagnostic Criteria | Treatments

Bipolar disorder, sometimes referred to as manic depression, is a mood disorder characterized by extreme mood swings which include emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression).

According to the DSM-5, the essential feature of a manic episode is a distinct period during which there is an abnormally, persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood and persistently increased activity or energy that is present for most of the day, nearly every day, for a period of at least 1 week (or any duration if hospitalization is necessary), among other symptoms.


During mania, the expansive mood, excessive optimism, grandiosity, and poor judgment often lead to reckless involvement in activities such as spending sprees, giving away possessions, reckless driving, foolish business investments, and sexual promiscuity that is unusual for the individual, even though these activities are likely to have catastrophic consequences, as claimed by the DSM-5.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

Having a manic episode is a key feature of bipolar disorder, as is depression. Below, you will find the most common symptoms of bipolar disorder for both mania and depression.

Manic Episode

  • Inflated self-esteem
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • More talkative than usual
  • Easily distracted
  • Increase in goal-directed activity
  • Engaging in risky behaviors

Major Depressive Episode

  • Feeling sadness
  • Diminished interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia nearly every day
  • Lethargy
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Indecisiveness
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Feelings of hopelessness

Causes of Bipolar Disorder

Temperamental, environmental, genetic & physiological factors are all likely to play key roles in the development of bipolar disorder. Individuals with a family history of mood disorders may be at a higher risk for developing it themselves.

According to the DSM-5, with regards to environment, bipolar disorder is more common in high-income than in low-income countries. Furthermore, having a family history of bipolar disorder is one of the strongest and most consistent risk factors for bipolar disorders.

The mean age at onset of the first manic, hypomanic, or major depressive episode is approx. 18 years for bipolar disorder. More than 90% of individuals who have a single manic episode go on to have recurrent mood episodes. Also, approx. 60% of manic episodes occur immediately before a major depressive episode, as is transcribed in the DSM-5.


Diagnostic Criteria

To get diagnosed with bipolar disorder, one must undergo a psychiatric evaluation by a licensed mental health professional. This will often entail the therapist asking the patient numerous questions to better understand their family history, current symptoms, as well as the severity of those symptoms.

Some of the specific criteria for getting diagnosed with bipolar disorder, according to the DSM-5, is a distinct period of abnormally and persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood and abnormally and persistently increased goal-directed activity or energy, lasting at least 1 week and present most of the day, nearly every day.

Additionally, having a depressed mood for most of the day, nearly every day, diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day, insomnia, recurrent thoughts of death, diminished ability to concentrate, and feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt are also part of the diagnostic criteria for bipolar disorder.


Treatments for Bipolar Disorder

Although bipolar disorder is a lifelong mental illness, there are many ways to treat the condition. Depending on the severity of one’s symptoms, hospitalization may be required to treat bipolar disorder. In any event, talk therapy and psychiatric medication are often used in unison to treat this disorder.


Talk therapy or psychotherapy is a very common treatment method for bipolar disorder. During therapy, the therapist will work with the patient to help lower the frequency and intensity of their symptoms. Sometimes, treatment can take the form of group therapy.


Mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, and antidepressants are often used to treat bipolar disorder. Examples of mood stabilizers include lithium (Lithobid), valproic acid (Depakene), divalproex sodium (Depakote), carbamazepine (Tegretol, Equetro, others) and lamotrigine (Lamictal).

Examples of antipsychotics include olanzapine (Zyprexa), risperidone (Risperdal), quetiapine (Seroquel), aripiprazole (Abilify), ziprasidone (Geodon), lurasidone (Latuda) or asenapine (Saphris).

Some common antidepressants are fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva), sertraline (Zoloft), citalopram (Celexa) and escitalopram (Lexapro).

Remember to always talk to your doctor first before taking any psychiatric medication to ensure it is safe and effective to do so.

If you think you may be suffering from some of the symptoms of this condition, then you may benefit from therapy. Feel free to reach out to your doctor or local mental health clinic to see what your available options are and to see if there is any sort of discount or promo code available to help you with the costs of treatment, as well as if your health insurance will cover treatment costs.


  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)

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