Bipolar Disorder: Symptoms and Causes

Bipolar disorder is a mental condition that causes severe shifts in behavior, moods, thinking, and energy. It equally affects males and females, as well as people of all races, socio-economic background, and ethnic groups. The disorder can start in early childhood or even in your 40s or 50s. However, it commonly manifests itself from the age of 15 and above. People with the disorder experience periods where they are overly happy and energized and other sessions of feeling depressed, very sad, and hopeless. Although bipolar disorder is a lifelong illness, you can manage it by learning and understanding its causes, risk factors, and treatment.

Causes of Bipolar Disorder

As of this writing, researchers are still digging for what genes contribute to the physical changes in the brain when the disorder is present. However, they pinpoint certain risk factors that increase your chance of developing bipolar disorder. They include:


If a member of your family has bipolar disorder, then your chances of developing it are high. Researchers have found that children of parents with a mental disorder had a one-third chance of also developing the condition. Likewise, the researchers discovered that the earlier a parent is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, the higher the risk of their child developing the disorder.

However, genetics may not be the only factor as another study on identical twins showed that both twins may not always be affected. This may mean that there are other environmental factors that may increase the risks.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse doesn’t exactly cause bipolar disorder. However, people who abuse drugs and alcohol may worsen or accelerate the onset of the symptoms. Certain medications can also increase your chances of developing the disorder.


A person who has experienced a traumatic event such as sexual abuse, death of a parent, physical abuse and neglect among others may be at a higher risk of developing the disorder. Additionally, stressful events like losing a job, a loved one or moving to a new area can trigger depressive or manic episodes.

Types of Bipolar Disorder

There are several types of bipolar disorders. The three major types include:

Bipolar I Disorder

Bipolar I disorder is defined with having at least one manic episode that lasted for at least seven days. A manic episode can be described as a period of abnormally high emotions with no particular explanation, which can go for more than a week. Depressive episodes (periods of intense hopelessness, sadness, irritability, and sluggishness) may occur as well preceding or following mania episodes.

Bipolar II Disorder

Bipolar II disorder is less severe than bipolar I disorder. Usually, individuals will experience episodes of lows and downs but not the full-blown manic episodes experienced by individuals suffering from bipolar I disorder. Bipolar II disorder is easier to manage than bipolar I disorder.

Cyclothymic Disorder

Also known as cyclothymia, the symptoms are milder and don’t meet the diagnostic requirements for a depressive or manic episode. An individual must have had numerous periods of hypomania and depressive episodes for at least two years.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder can affect anyone at any age. However, symptoms typically start to get noticeable from teenage years. The symptoms can vary from one individual to another and may change over time.

Mania and Hypomania Episodes

Mania and hypomania are different types of episodes that affect a person experiencing bipolar disorder. They are more extreme than hypomania episodes and can result in problems at work, school or relationship. Both types of episodes exhibit similar symptoms, which include:

  • Agitation
  • Euphoria
  • Racing thoughts
  • Poor decision making such as having careless sexual, going on a shopping frenzy or investing foolishly
  • Feeling invisible
  • Unusual talkativeness (talking very fast about many different things)
  • Endless happiness
  • Become overly active

Depressive Episode

A depressive episode usually entails feeling low and sad. When a person experiences a major depressive disorder, it may interfere with his/her daily activities such as going to work, school or their relationship and social events. A depressive disorder may manifest five or more of the following symptoms:

  • Loss of energy or fatigue
  • Thoughts of or planning suicide
  • Feelings of emptiness
  • Disinterest in all or almost everything
  • Lack of sleep or too much sleep
  • Indecisiveness
  • Feeling sad, hopeless and easily irritable
  • Uncontrollable crying
  • Weight gain or weight loss due to appetite changes

Bipolar Disorder Treatment

If you feel like you may have bipolar disorder, it’s highly advisable to see a mental health expert who specializes in the disorder. Suicidal thoughts are common in individuals with bipolar disorder and if you have such thoughts, you should contact 911 or the local emergency number immediately. Here in the U.S., you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). Since bipolar disorder is caused by an imbalance of certain chemicals in the brain, treatment includes mood-stabilizing drugs.

The medication may vary from person to person depending on the symptoms, the individual’s overall health and how the disorder manifests itself. Bipolar disorder is a lifelong illness and ongoing treatment is more effective compared to treating symptoms as they appear. If managed properly, treatment can yield positive results and the moods may become stabilized thereby offering relief. Psychotherapy or ‘Talk therapy’ is also recommended in combination with the medication. People with bipolar disorder need support, understanding, guidance, and love to help them gain better control of their symptoms.

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