March 13, 2024

Recognizing the Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Contributors & Editors

Susana Spiegel

Recovery Writer and Advocate

Last Update on June 14, 2024

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Bipolar disorder is a complex mental health condition that affects millions of people worldwide. Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a mental health condition that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, concentration, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. People with bipolar disorder experience intense emotional states that typically occur in distinct periods called “mood episodes.” Recognizing the signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder is crucial for effective management and treatment.

Common Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes extreme mood swings, ranging from manic highs to depressive lows. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder is crucial for getting an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment. Common symptoms to watch for can look like:

Manic Episodes: These periods are characterized by extreme euphoria, boundless energy, decreased need for sleep, and often reckless behavior. Signs of bipolar disorder during manic episodes can be quite pronounced.

Depressive Episodes: The flip side includes feelings of deep sadness, fatigue, a loss of interest in enjoyable activities, and in severe cases, thoughts of suicide. These symptoms of bipolar disorder can be debilitating and cause significant distress.

Hypomania: A milder form of mania, presenting as elevated mood and increased productivity, without the severe impacts of full mania. Hypomania is one of the signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder that can be easily overlooked.

Mixed Episodes: Some individuals experience symptoms of both mania and depression simultaneously, complicating diagnosis and treatment. Mixed episodes are a clear indication that bipolar disorder symptoms cause significant challenges.

Rapid Cycling: Experiencing four or more episodes of mania or depression within a year is known as rapid cycling, a condition that can hinder treatment effectiveness. Rapid cycling is one of the more severe presentations of bipolar disorder signs and symptoms.

Psychosis: In extreme cases, severe manic or depressive episodes can lead to psychosis, including hallucinations or delusions. Psychosis is a serious symptom that requires immediate attention from mental health professionals.

Impulsivity: A common symptom in both manic and depressive phases, impulsivity can lead to poor decision-making. Impulsivity is one of the hallmark symptoms of bipolar disorder that can have far-reaching consequences.

Suicidal Thoughts: The most critical symptom to be aware of is any thoughts or behaviors related to suicide, necessitating immediate professional intervention. Suicidal ideation is a serious concern for those with bipolar disorder and should never be ignored.

Bipolar disorder presents a complex challenge, but with the right understanding and support, individuals can manage their symptoms and lead fulfilling lives. If you or someone you know shows signs of bipolar disorder, reaching out for professional help is a crucial first step towards recovery. Remember, support is always available, and no one has to face this mental health condition alone.

At its core, bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that involves dramatic shifts in mood, energy, and activity levels. These aren't your everyday mood changes; they're intense and can significantly impact daily life. The bipolar spectrum includes several types, such as Bipolar I, Bipolar II, and Cyclothymic Disorder, each with unique characteristics and symptoms of bipolar disorder.

Mood Swings

Mood swings are one of the most prominent signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder, characterized by significant fluctuations in an individual’s emotional state. These mood swings are more severe, prolonged, and impactful than the typical ups and downs that most people experience daily. The symptoms of bipolar disorder, particularly mood swings, are distinct from normal mood changes in several ways:

Intensity: Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes extreme emotional highs and lows. During manic episodes, individuals may experience excessive euphoria or irritability, while depressive episodes can bring about deep sadness or despair.

Frequency: While it’s common for people’s moods to shift in response to life events, those with bipolar disorder experience these mood swings more frequently, sometimes without any apparent external trigger. The signs of bipolar disorder often involve rapid mood changes that can be challenging to manage.

Duration: Mood swings associated with bipolar disorder typically last for extended periods, ranging from days to weeks or even months. This is considerably longer than the short-lived mood fluctuations that most people experience. The prolonged nature of these mood swings is one of the key symptoms of bipolar disorder.

Impact on Functioning: The most significant difference between typical mood variations and bipolar disorder symptoms is the extent to which these mood swings affect a person’s ability to function. In bipolar disorder, extreme mood states can lead to substantial difficulties in personal relationships, work performance, and daily activities. The disruptive nature of these mood swings is a clear indication that bipolar disorder symptoms cause significant challenges.

Recognizing and considering these distinctions is extremely important for identifying bipolar disorder and differentiating it from normal emotional responses. In the context of bipolar disorder, considering the intensity, frequency, duration, and impact of these mood swings provides a clearer path to diagnosis and treatment.

Manic Episodes

Manic episodes are a defining feature of bipolar disorder, characterized by an intense and sometimes overwhelming surge in mood and energy levels. These periods can profoundly impact an individual’s life, from daily functioning to relationships. Understanding the nature of these episodes is essential for those dealing with bipolar disorder, providing insights into the condition and guiding them toward effective management strategies. Symptoms of bipolar disorder during manic episodes include:

Euphoric Mood: Individuals may experience exceptionally high spirits, feeling excessively happy or unusually irritable without a clear cause. This elevated mood is one of the most prominent signs of bipolar disorder during manic episodes.

Boundless Energy: There’s often a significant boost in energy levels, leading to increased productivity or restlessness. This surge in energy is a hallmark symptom of bipolar disorder during manic episodes.

Decreased Need for Sleep: People experiencing a manic episode might feel rested after just a few hours, a clear departure from their usual sleep patterns. This reduced need for sleep is a common sign of bipolar disorder during manic episodes.

Impulsive Behavior: Manic episodes can lead to impulsive decisions like spending sprees or engaging in risky physical activities. These impulsive behaviors are a key symptom of bipolar disorder during manic episodes.

Manic episodes in bipolar disorder can significantly disrupt an individual’s daily life and interpersonal relationships. The intensity of these episodes can lead to burnout, impulsive behaviors, and strained relationships with friends, family, and colleagues. Recognizing the symptoms is crucial for seeking help and managing the condition effectively. Awareness and understanding can lead to better outcomes for those affected by this complex mental health condition, emphasizing the importance of education and compassionate support in navigating bipolar disorder.

Get Help for Mental Health at Cornerstone

Cornerstone Healing Center in Arizona offers comprehensive, personalized treatment for bipolar disorder. Our experienced team provides evidence-based care to help you achieve stability and wellness.

Depressive Episodes

Depressive episodes in bipolar disorder present a stark contrast to manic episodes. Symptoms include persistent sadness, lack of energy, feelings of hopelessness, and a loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities. The nature of recognizing these episodes within the broader spectrum of bipolar disorder emphasizes the differences in behavior and mood compared to manic episodes.1 Symptoms can include:

  • Persistent Sadness: A deep, ongoing feeling of sadness that doesn’t go away, a common sign of bipolar disorder during depressive episodes.
  • Lack of Energy: Feeling tired all the time, with little to no motivation to engage in activities, a typical symptom of bipolar disorder during depressive episodes.
  • Feelings of Hopelessness: A sense of despair about the future, which is a concerning symptom of bipolar disorder during depressive episodes.
  • Loss of Interest: Decreased interest in activities or hobbies that were once enjoyable, a key sign of bipolar disorder during depressive episodes.

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, involves a mix of manic and depressive episodes, each with distinct symptoms that impact individuals’ lives differently. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder is essential for obtaining the right diagnosis and treatment, allowing those affected to manage their condition effectively. Whether it’s the elevated mood and increased energy of manic episodes or the persistent sadness and lack of energy during depressive episodes, understanding these fluctuations is key to supporting individuals with bipolar disorder.

Yes, bipolar disorder is a serious mental health condition that causes extreme mood swings and can significantly impact a person's life. Without proper treatment, it can lead to severe consequences, such as relationship problems, job loss, and even suicidal tendencies. However, with the right care and support, people with bipolar disorder can manage their symptoms and lead fulfilling lives.


Hypomania, characterized by elevated mood, increased energy, and activity levels, is a milder form of mania that does not cause significant disruptions in day-to-day life, setting it apart from the more intense symptoms of bipolar disorder observed during full manic episodes2. Understanding the difference between hypomania and full manic episodes is crucial for accurately identifying the signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder and determining the appropriate course of treatment.

  • Elevated Mood: Feeling unusually upbeat or wired, which is one of the key signs of bipolar disorder during hypomanic episodes.
  • Increased Energy and Productivity: Having more energy than usual, leading to increased productivity, a common symptom of bipolar disorder during hypomanic episodes.
  • Decreased Need for Sleep: Feeling rested after less sleep than is typical for the individual, a telltale sign of bipolar disorder during hypomanic episodes.
  • Increased Sociability: Being more outgoing and engaging in social activities more than usual, a frequent symptom of bipolar disorder during hypomanic episodes.

Hypomania can potentially escalate into severe manic or depressive episodes, significantly impacting mental health and quality of life. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of hypomania is crucial for effectively managing bipolar disorder and preventing progression to more severe stages. By understanding hypomania and its distinction from full manic episodes, individuals and healthcare providers can make informed treatment decisions, aiming for stability and improved well-being. Raising awareness about the various manifestations of bipolar disorder fosters a more informed and compassionate approach to supporting those affected by this complex condition.


Can you have a normal life with bipolar?

Yes, you can lead a normal life with bipolar disorder. With the right combination of medication, therapy, lifestyle changes, and a strong support system, many people with bipolar disorder achieve stability and maintain a high quality of life.

Mixed Episodes

Mixed episodes in bipolar disorder occur when an individual experiences symptoms of both mania and depression simultaneously or in rapid sequence. This can be a particularly challenging and confusing experience for those affected. During a mixed episode, a person may exhibit signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder, such as:
  • Feeling energized and depressed at the same time
  • Irritability and agitation
  • Anxiety and restlessness
  • Insomnia or disrupted sleep patterns
  • Racing thoughts and distractibility
  • Impulsive or reckless behavior
  • Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or emptiness
Mixed episodes in bipolar disorder present a unique set of challenges for both individuals experiencing them and the mental health professionals treating them. The combination of manic and depressive symptoms can be confusing, distressing, and difficult to manage. It’s essential for those with bipolar disorder to be aware of the signs and symptoms of mixed episodes, as they may require prompt attention and adjustments to their treatment plan.

Key takeaways 📝

Rapid Cycling

Rapid cycling is a pattern of frequent mood episodes in bipolar disorder, characterized by the occurrence of four or more episodes of mania, hypomania, or depression within 12 months. These episodes must meet the full diagnostic criteria for each mood episode.3 Rapid cycling presents several challenges in the management of bipolar disorder:

  • Difficulty in achieving and maintaining mood stability: The frequent shifts between manic, hypomanic, and depressive episodes can make it challenging to stabilize mood and prevent relapse.
  • Increased risk of hospitalization: Individuals with rapid cycling may experience more severe symptoms and a higher risk of hospitalization due to the frequency and intensity of mood episodes.
  • Reduced response to medication: Traditional bipolar disorder treatments, such as mood stabilizers and antipsychotics, may be less effective in individuals with rapid cycling, requiring careful medication management and monitoring.
  • Increased risk of suicide: Rapid cycling is associated with a higher risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors, necessitating close monitoring and proactive interventions to ensure patient safety.
  • Diagnostic challenges: Rapid cycling can complicate the diagnostic process, as the frequent mood shifts may obscure the underlying bipolar disorder diagnosis or be mistaken for other mental health conditions.

Given these challenges, individuals with rapid cycling bipolar disorder often require more intensive treatment and monitoring. This may involve a combination of medication, psychotherapy, lifestyle modifications, and close collaboration between mental health professionals and the individual’s support system to optimize outcomes and improve quality of life.


Psychosis is a serious symptom that can occur during severe manic or depressive episodes in bipolar disorder. It is characterized by a loss of contact with reality, which can be highly distressing for the individual experiencing it and their loved ones. Symptoms of psychosis in bipolar disorder may include:
  • Hallucinations (seeing, hearing, or feeling things that are not there)
  • Delusions (firmly held false beliefs)
  • Disorganized speech or behavior
  • Catatonia (inability to move or respond)
Psychotic symptoms in bipolar disorder can have severe consequences on an individual’s well-being and overall functioning. When a person experiences psychosis during a manic or depressive episode, they may engage in behaviors that put themselves or others at risk. These symptoms can lead to:
  • Risky or dangerous behaviors
  • Impaired judgment and decision-making
  • Self-harm or harm to others
  • Difficulty communicating or functioning in daily life
If you or someone you know is experiencing psychosis as part of a bipolar disorder episode, it is essential to seek professional help immediately. A mental health provider can assess the situation and recommend the appropriate treatment, which may include medication, therapy, or hospitalization in severe cases4. With proper care and support, individuals with bipolar disorder can manage their symptoms, including psychosis, and lead fulfilling lives.


Impulsivity is a common symptom of bipolar disorder, particularly during manic or hypomanic episodes. During these episodes, individuals may engage in impulsive behaviors without considering the potential consequences of their actions.This is what impulsive behaviors in bipolar disorder can include:
  • Excessive spending or shopping sprees
  • Risky sexual behavior
  • Substance abuse
  • Reckless driving
  • Making hasty decisions with long-term impacts
Impulsivity in bipolar disorder can be particularly challenging because the individual may not recognize the negative impact of their behavior during a manic or hypomanic episode5. This lack of insight can make it difficult for loved ones to intervene or for the individual to seek help.

How do I know if I'm Bipolar?

Initial Assessment: Meeting with a mental health provider to discuss your symptoms, history, and concerns. This may be a psychiatrist, psychologist, or primary care physician.
Medical History Review: A thorough examination of your medical history, including any family history of mental health conditions, to identify potential genetic factors.
Psychiatric Evaluation: An in-depth assessment conducted by a mental health professional, using structured interviews and questionnaires to evaluate your symptoms and rule out other mental health disorders.
Mood Tracking: Keeping a detailed log of your daily mood fluctuations, behaviors, sleep patterns, and life events. This helps identify patterns or triggers associated with mood changes.
Differential Diagnosis: Ruling out other conditions that may mimic bipolar disorder symptoms, such as thyroid problems, substance use disorders, or other psychiatric conditions.
DSM-5 Criteria: Using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) criteria to determine the specific type of bipolar disorder (I, II, or cyclothymic disorder), based on the pattern and severity of mood episodes.
Physical Exam and Tests: Undergoing a physical examination and possibly lab tests to rule out underlying medical conditions that could be causing or contributing to mood symptoms.

Suicidal Thoughts

Suicidal thoughts and behaviors are a serious concern for individuals with bipolar disorder. The intense mood swings and emotional distress associated with the disorder can lead to feelings of hopelessness and despair, increasing the risk of suicidal ideation and attempts. It’s important to recognize the signs of suicidal thoughts in yourself or a loved one with bipolar disorder, which may include:
  •  Talking about death or suicide
  • Expressing feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Giving away possessions
  • Saying goodbye as if they won’t see someone again
  • Engaging in reckless or self-destructive behavior
It’s crucial to remember that suicidal thoughts are a symptom of bipolar disorder, not a personal weakness. With appropriate treatment and support, individuals can manage their symptoms and reduce the risk of suicidal behavior6. If you suspect someone with bipolar disorder is having suicidal thoughts, don’t be afraid to ask them directly. Talking openly about suicide doesn’t increase the risk; rather, it allows the person to express their feelings and seek help. Remember, if you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call your local emergency services or go to the nearest hospital emergency room.

How We Can Help

As a mental health condition, bipolar disorder requires professional attention and support. If you or someone you know is experiencing signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder, such as severe mood swings, it’s essential to seek help from a qualified mental health professional. With proper diagnosis and treatment, individuals with bipolar disorder can effectively manage their symptoms and lead fulfilling lives.

At Cornerstone Healing Center, we understand the challenges that come with managing bipolar disorder symptoms. Our team of experienced and compassionate mental health professionals is dedicated to providing the highest quality care to those struggling with this condition. We offer a range of evidence-based bipolar disorder treatment programs tailored to meet the unique needs of each individual. Please, if you or a loved one is dealing with bipolar disorder, don’t hesitate to reach out today! 

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Author & Reviewers

susana spiegel recovery writer and SEO expert

Susana is a recovery writer and advocate with over 8 years in addiction recovery. She is passionate about sharing accurate and helpful information about mental health, addiction, and recovery. She holds a Bachelor’s in Christian Studies from Grand Canyon University and has over 7 years of working in the addiction field. 

lionel estrada lisac clinical director

Lionel is the Clinical Director of Cornerstone’s Scottsdale treatment facilities. He has had over 4 years at Cornerstone. He is personally in recovery and passionate about helping others overcome substance abuse and mental health challenges; he is trained as an EMDR, adopting a trauma-informed approach to treat the underlying issues.

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