Sometimes we hear people saying that they feel “bipolar” when they are changing their mind a lot or that they know someone that is bipolar because they are happy one minute and upset the next.

Unfortunately, the term bipolar is often used incorrectly and people will describe someone as bipolar when they really mean that person is moody. 

It is normal to have mood shifts and experience ups and downs throughout the day. However, if the mood changes start to negatively affect your day to day life, you might actually wonder if you have bipolar disorder.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, “bipolar disorders are brain disorders that cause changes in a person’s mood, energy, and ability to function.” Individuals with bipolar disorderhave “extreme and intense emotional states that occur at distinct times.” These episodes are categorized as manic, hypomanic, or depressive. 

A manic episode is a period of at least one week when a person is very high spirited or irritable in an extreme way most of the day for most days, has more energy than usual and experiences at least three of the following, showing a change in behavior:

  • Exaggerated self-esteem or grandiosity

  • Less need for sleep

  • Talking more than usual, talking loudly and quickly

  • Easily distracted

  • Doing many activities at once, scheduling more events in a day than can be accomplished

  • Increased risky behavior (e.g., reckless driving, spending sprees)

  • Uncontrollable racing thoughts or quickly changing ideas or topics

A hypomanic episode is similar to a manic episode (above) but the symptoms are less severe and need to only last four days in a row. Hypomanic symptoms do not lead to the major problems that mania often causes and the person is still able to function.

A major depressive episode is a period of two weeks in which a person has at least five of the following (including one of the first two):

  • Intense sadness or despair; feeling helpless, hopeless or worthless

  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed

  • Feeling worthless or guilty

  • Sleep problems — sleeping too little or too much

  • Feeling restless or agitated (e.g., pacing or hand-wringing), or slowed speech or movements

  • Changes in appetite (increase or decrease)

  • Loss of energy, fatigue

  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering making decisions

  • Frequent thoughts of death or suicide

Although at times it can feel overwhelming to live with the symptoms of bipolar disorder, with individualized treatment, individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorder can lead full and productive lives. At Metta Psychology Group, our therapistsare skilled at exploring symptoms and tailoring treatment to fit your unique needs. Medication can also be an important part of treating bipolar disorder.Our psychologists can help you to locate a professional that can aid in prescribing the appropriate medication. Furthermore, our psychologists will collaborate with other professionals to provide continuity of care and make sure that you are receiving the support you need. 

Symptoms of bipolar disorder are often noticeable by family and friends and can cause severe disruptions in romantic and familial relationships, as well as in academic and work environments. Some family members may also find it helpful to meet with a psychologist to learn ways to best support their loved ones.