What are the top five symptoms of bipolar disorder?

Symptoms of bipolar disorder - Centres for Health and Healing

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes a range of depressive symptoms within an individual, such as extreme mood swings, manic episodes, and a whole host of other unpleasant depression symptoms.

What is bipolar disorder?

Formerly called manic depression, bipolar disorder is a mental disorder that involves extreme emotional highs and lows (often referred to as mania or hypomania).

Someone with bipolar disorder may experience profound shifts in mood and behaviour; for instance, they may feel hopeless or sad and express little interest in what they once enjoyed.

Mania or ‘hypomania.’

In the instance where a person’s mood changes to mania or hypomania (a less extreme form of mania), they may experience intense happiness or euphoria, have limitless energy, or demonstrate severe irritability.

Day to day life

Research suggests that bipolar-related mood swings may cloud a person’s judgment and impact their energy levels, sleep patterns, behaviour, and ability to think rationally or clearly.

Manic episode

The frequency and duration of episodic mood swings associated with bipolar disorder may occur regularly (i.e. three times a year) or rarely at all.

Individuals with bipolar disorder may experience emotional symptoms between episodes, while others are symptom-free.

Treating bipolar disorder

Fortunately, bipolar disorder is a manageable mental health condition.

While it is a lifelong mental health disorder, the symptoms associated with bipolar disorder, such as mood swings (and other unpleasant symptoms), are manageable following a mental health professional’s specific treatment plan.

Treatment options

Treatment options may include:

Bipolar disorder symptoms

There are several different forms of bipolar disorder, including depression, hypomania or mania.

Due to the nature of bipolar disorder, a person’s mood or behaviour may be unpredictable with each manic episode, which can cause severe distress and disruption in the individuals’ daily life.

The top five symptoms of bipolar disorder:

  • Bipolar disorder I – This type of bipolar disorder involves one manic episode followed by major depressive episodes or hypomania. As well as the symptoms mentioned, a person may also experience psychosis (a break from reality).
  • Bipolar II disorder – An individual may report at least one episode of hypomania and one major depressive episode but no manic episodes.
  • Cyclothymic disorder – Hypomania and depressive symptoms are frequent and present for at least two years (in adults) and one year in teenagers and children. However, the symptoms are much less severe than major depression.
  • Other conditions that may trigger bipolar disorder are substance abuse, multiple sclerosis, stroke, or Cushing’s disease.
  • Aggressive behaviours

Depressive episodes

People with bipolar disorder may experience different symptoms from others with the condition; the symptoms may vary from person to person and change over time.

Bipolar disorder can occur at any age. However, a bipolar disorder diagnosis is more prevalent in an individual’s teenage years or early twenties.

Bipolar disorder I and bipolar II disorder

Bipolar disorder i is not any more severe than bipolar ii disorder, and both mental disorders are separate diagnoses.

Research suggests that although the manic episodes associated with bipolar disorder I can be dangerous and severe, the duration of significant depressive symptoms in bipolar ii disorder can be long-lasting, causing profoundly impaired functioning.

The hypomanic and manic phase

As mentioned, bipolar episodes include hypomanic and manic phases, with the latter being more severe.

Although mania and hypomania feature the same symptoms, they are two distinct episodes.

Mania episodes

Mania episode - Centres for Health and Healing

Manic symptoms tend to cause more noticeable symptoms and are more severe than hypomania.

As well as being the cause of work, school and relationship problems, manic episodes can also trigger psychotic symptoms (i.e. psychosis or a ‘break’ from reality).

In severe cases of mania, a person may require hospitalization.

Hypomania and mania symptoms

Manic and hypomanic episodes involve at least three (or more) of the following symptoms:

  • Racing thoughts
  • Appearing keyed up, upbeat, or jumpy.
  • Excessively talkative
  • Increased energy levels, activity, agitation or irritability
  • Inflated sense of self-esteem, confidence and well being (euphoria)
  • Risky behaviours and poor decision-making, such as risky investments, outlandish shopping sprees, taking sexual risks, etc.
  • Easily distracted

Major depressive episode (and symptoms)

Another critical feature of bipolar disorder is a major depressive episode.

The symptoms associated with major depression can be severe and may impact individuals’ daily living, such as college, school, work, family life, or personal relationships.

Research suggests that a significant depressive episode involves at least five (or more) of the following symptoms:

  • Insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Severely depressed mood, such as intense sadness, hopelessness or feelings of emptiness
  • Changes in weight, such as weight gain or weight loss, or a decrease or increase in appetite (Note: in children, an inability to gain weight may be a sign of major depression)
  • Feelings of inappropriate or excessive guilt or worthlessness
  • Impaired decision-making, or an inability to concentrate or think clearly
  • Restlessness, fatigue, or slowed behaviour
  • A loss of interest in pleasurable activities or the things you once enjoyed
  • Suicidal ideation

Other signs of bipolar disorder

According to the literature, other features get associated with bipolar I disorder and bipolar ii disorder.

As well as extreme mood episodes, mania and hypomania symptoms, and major depressive symptoms, bipolar I and bipolar ii disorders may also include:

Researchers state that the duration or timing of bipolar disorder symptoms may include ‘diagnostic labels such as mixed or rapid cycling’ (Mayo Clinic, February 2021).

Diagnosing mental illness in children and teens

Moreover, bipolar symptoms may prove more challenging to diagnose in children and teenagers.

It can be hard to differentiate between the stress of trauma, everyday ups and downs associated with development, or indications of other mental health conditions such as anxiety disorders, other mood disorders, or physical health issues.

Children and teenagers may exhibit distinct manic, hypomanic, and depressive episodes compared to adults.

Furthermore, teenagers and children can experience little to no mood swings between episodes.

Severe mood swings

Mood swings - Centres for Health and Healing

However, researchers stated that one of the notable features of bipolar disorder in teenagers and children is severe mood swings that differ from the usual.

What causes bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorders can be caused by various factors, although the cause of bipolar disorder is unknown.

According to research, the leading cause (s) of bipolar disorder are:

  • Genetics. Those with a relative suffering from bipolar disorder, such as a parent or sibling, are more likely to develop the mental illness themselves.
  • Biological changes. Scientific research suggests that people with bipolar disorder appear to have significant physical brain changes compared to people without the disease.

Bipolar disorder treatment

According to Mind, there are many treatment options available to those with bipolar disorder. Therapy options include:

  • Interpersonal therapy
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy
  • Behavioural couples therapy

Talk therapies

Other types of talking therapies on offer may include:


Specific medications may also get offered to those who have bipolar disorder.

Risk factors

Risk factors of bipolar disorder - Centres for Health and Healing

There are specific risk factors that put people at higher risk of developing bipolar disorder, they include:

  • Episodes of high stress, including the death of a loved one or close relative (or another traumatic event)
  • Substance abuse (such as drug or alcohol abuse)
  • Having a relative (such as a mother, father, or sibling) with bipolar disorder

Contact us

If you think you may be experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned in this article, perhaps it’s time to get in touch with a mental health professional at our friendly centre who can help.

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