Bipolar disorders are the leading cause of disability and suicide in the U.S. 4% of the population is living with a bipolar disorder. Formerly known as manic depression, people with bipolar disorders will experience emotional cycles, sometimes very rapidly. 

Typically, these mood cycles are mania (intense happiness and activity) and depression (extreme sadness and hopelessness). If you have a bipolar disorder, you can be on top of the world and full of energy one day, and down in the dumps and exhausted the next. 

There are three common types of bipolar disorders - Bipolar I, Bipolar II, and Cyclothymic disorder.

Bipolar I - Typically, manic episodes will last for about seven days and include severe symptoms, like delusions or violence. Depressive episodes can last up to two weeks. Your mood cycles will be rapid and intense. This type of bipolar disorder affects women and men equally. Sometimes, Bipolar I may require hospitalization to begin effective treatment.

Bipolar II - This is similar to bipolar I, but the manic episodes are less frequent or severe. You may have more depressive episodes than manic episodes. This type of bipolar disorder affects more women than men, and can usually be treated with medication and therapy.

Cyclothymic disorder (also called cyclothymia) - You may experience multiple cycles of manic and depressive episodes over a period of two years, but your episodes do not meet the criteria for another type of bipolar disorder. 

Bipolar disorders can appear in patients of any age or gender, but typically are first diagnosed in young adulthood. Bipolar disorders can be very damaging and dangerous - not just for you, but for the people around you as well. Untreated bipolar disorders can lead to violence, addiction, unsafe choices, psychosis, and suicide.


Each of the three common types of bipolar disorder has its own unique profile of symptoms. Most bipolar disorders involve a patient experiencing rapidly changing mood cycles. You may only have a few episodes of mood cycling a year, or you may have a constant pattern of rapid change. Only your doctor or therapist can determine which type of bipolar disorder you or a loved one may have and help you begin treatment. Each is treated differently.

Common symptoms of a manic episode in bipolar disorders include:

  • Unexplained sudden bursts of energy
  • Rapid speech that jumps from topic to topic
  • Paranoia and suspiciousness
  • Hysterical crying or screaming for no apparent reason
  • Physical violence or graphic threats of violence toward people, even loved ones
  • A belief that you have special abilities that make you better than other people
  • Unexplained sleep changes, including sleeping very little or sleeping too much
  • Inflated or exaggerated self-esteem
  • Racing thoughts, impatience, and distractibility
  • A sudden increase in focused activities like art projects, games, or home improvement
  • Impulsive high-risk behaviors including spending sprees, unsafe sex, and drug use
  • Hallucinations or delusions

Common symptoms of a depressive episode in bipolar disorders include:

  • Restlessness and lethargy, unexplained exhaustion, listlessness
  • A sudden loss of interest in activities that you enjoy
  • Feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness
  • Suicidal thoughts or planning - seek immediate medical care by calling 911
  • Problems concentrating, making decisions, or remembering things
  • Withdrawal from friends, family, and social situations
  • Increased alcohol consumption or drug use
  • A sudden lack of personal hygiene, rapid weight loss or gain, and changes in usual grooming or eating habits
  • An unexplainable feeling of impending doom or that you’ve done something terrible and deserve punishment or retribution


Bipolar disorders can be caused by a variety of factors. While no one particular thing can be pointed to as an exact cause, several factors make you more likely to develop a bipolar disorder. These factors include:

  • Family history - research has found strong evidence that bipolar disorders have a genetic component. If you have a parent with a bipolar disorder, you are 10% more likely to develop one  
  • Brain chemistry - in many people with bipolar disorders, their brain is unable to produce the correct balance of chemicals or lacks some neural pathways 
  • Biology - your brain may not be a typical shape or size or may lack other important characteristics
  • Trauma - brain trauma, including CTE, can cause damage to your neural pathways and brain chemistry


If you or a loved one are struggling with a bipolar disorder, you will require a comprehensive care team to help you combat the condition. Your doctor and therapist can help you decide on the best treatment plan for you. Your treatment plan will likely include a combination of medication, therapy, and other coping mechanisms to help you deal with the impact a bipolar disorder can have on you and your family. 

Medication: A combination of antidepressants, mood stabilizers, anti-anxiety medications, antipsychotics, and other drugs can be used to treat bipolar disorder. Find a doctor at Sheppard Pratt and learn more about medication. 

Therapy: Talk therapy, couples therapy, family therapy, behavioral therapy - all of these techniques and others can be beneficial as part of your treatment plan. You may also benefit from inpatient or residential treatment at a specialized treatment center like The Retreat at Sheppard Pratt. 

Education: Learning more about your disorder, the things that can trigger it, and behaviors to help you better cope with bipolar disorder will help you improve your quality of life. Find out more about bipolar disorder and other mental health questions through our resource center. 

Support: You and your family will need support and guidance through your journey to better mental health. Find a support group that fits your schedule at Sheppard Pratt.