Bipolar disorder is typically characterized by mood swings that may last for several weeks to months at a time. These mood swings fall into two main categories: the depressive phase and the manic phase, with each phase characterized by distinct symptoms.
Symptoms of the depressive phase
Some of the depressive phase symptoms include:
Feelings of worthlessness, unhappiness, hopelessness or emptiness
Loss of interest in activities that were previously enjoyed
Difficulty in falling and staying asleep or unusually long periods of sleep causing drowsiness
Depression may be present in varying degrees and may be severe, moderate, or mild. The mild form of depression is typically characterized by low mood (dysthymia) that may last for a period of weeks.
Symptoms of the manic phase
Some of the manic phase symptoms include:
An excitable, happy mood accompanied by incessant, loud and rapid talking
Difficulty sleeping due to feeling "geared up", jumpy, or excited
Markedly reduced appetite
Feeling energetic or "on a high"
Rapid, racing or erratic thought patterns and conversation
Irritable or explosive mood
Psychosis (delusions and hallucinations)
People experiencing a manic phase may take on many activities or projects but fail to perform goal-oriented activities due to a tendency to be easily distracted. The manic phase may also lead them to excessively overspend on items they do not really need. In addition, this phase is often characterized by increased spates of high risk behaviour including having impulsive sex with unknown people or making spontaneous business investments.
Hypomania is a state of increased energy and activity that is of a lesser intensity than during the manic phase. Symptoms usually last for around a week and do not require emergency management.
The mixed state
The mixed state is when symptoms of both mania and depression exist at the same time. An individual may, for example, feel tearful during a manic phase or experience excited, racing thought patterns during a depressive phase.
Bipolar disorder is diagnosed if an individual has a number of manic or depressive symptoms for most of the day, with few phases of stable mood. The mood swings need to be occurring on a daily or near-daily basis over a period of at least one to two weeks for the diagnosis to be confirmed.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc