Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Although the pandemic is over, the upheavals and disasters in the world fill our news and social feeds, and many of us find ourselves still in a see-saw of emotions. One week we are coping, doing better than that even – back to achieving, organising, creating, full of energy and ideas; yet, the next week sees us again feeling depleted, anxious, exhausted, bored even. We may wonder if there is something seriously wrong with us, that we seem emotionally unstable, and yet it is actually quite a normal reaction to what life has thrown at us the last few years.

However, for some people there may be highs and lows that are not part of the average human emotional spectrum, and it is important to recognise and understand the difference. Bipolar disorder is one of the mental health conditions that people may mention more frequently, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they fully grasp what it is and how to manage it. In today’s blog post, therapist Teyhou Smyth removes the mystery and clearly explains what it is. If you recognise yourself or someone you know in this, please do reach out and talk to a qualified professional to get the help needed.

bipolar disorder blog post imageOne of the best cultural changes in recent decades is the movement toward understanding and talking about mental health. The social dialogue about mental health has helped us to better grasp the challenges of varying types of conditions.

Bipolar Disorder is one of those diagnoses that has gained a greater understanding in our society. Despite the improved understanding, there continues to be a lot of missing information about Bipolar Disorder within the general public.

Now that the conversation has been started, it is a good opportunity for more details about Bipolar Disorder to emerge.

Understanding the Terms of Bipolar


Mania is an extreme and heightened state of being. Often people in a manic phase cannot sleep, have excessive energy and make impulsive choices that are sometimes detrimental. People in a manic phase often talk excessively, speak loudly and at a fast pace. In this frame of mind, it is difficult to keep up with racing thoughts. Some people in a manic phase feel irritable and agitated. There may be an increase in erratic spending or sexual behaviours and an inflated sense of self.


Hypomanic is a less drastic form of manic symptoms. One might experience increased energy and excitability but without the detrimental effects that sometimes comes with full manic phases. Hypomanic states often bring a lot of creativity and energy.

Depression Phase

A depressive phase of bipolar is the direct opposite of mania. Bipolar depression is often characterised by severe sadness and inability to function. Often in a depressive phase of the disorder, it is difficult to get out of bed. There is a desire to sleep constantly and there may be suicidal thoughts or a desire to die. In a depressive phase of the condition, there is often a tremendous amount of guilt, despair and fatigue. Cognitive functioning can be impacted at times, as well as unintended weight changes (gain or loss).

What are Various Types of Bipolar?

Just as no two people are exactly alike, Bipolar isn’t the same for every person.

There are identifying features in all forms of Bipolar Disorder that are part of the criteria to fit within the diagnostic scope, but within that criteria, the condition manifests for each person uniquely.

There are three types of Bipolar Disorder; Bipolar 1, Bipolar 2 and Cyclothymic Disorder. Each type of Bipolar is characterised by mood disruptions that cycle between variations of manic, hypomanic and depressive symptoms.

Bipolar 1:

In this version of Bipolar, at least one manic episode is required for diagnosis. With the vacillation between depressive disorder and manic episodes, individuals with Bipolar 1 can have a lot of struggles in different areas of life. The extreme nature of the mood changes over time can make it difficult to predict functioning.

Bipolar 2:

There are no episodes of mania, but there are one or more depressive episodes and at least one hypomanic episode. The changes in mood are disruptive and impact functioning. Depression is severe and impactful. Moods can change quickly, and depends on whether the Bipolar is rapid cycling, as well as level of severity of the symptoms.


This type of Bipolar is less extreme but symptoms are longer in duration. With cyclothymia, there are two years in which hypomanic symptoms are present, but not to the extent of a full hypomanic episode. Similarly, there are depressive symptoms that are present that don’t meet full criteria as a depressive episode. Cyclothymia may be the most difficult type to diagnose because the symptoms are less severe and may not impact one’s life as significantly as with Bipolar 1 and 2.

Some people with Bipolar Disorder experience episodes of psychosis.

While psychosis is more common for Bipolar 1, it can occur in Bipolar 2 also. The word psychosis often brings along a great deal of fear, but often it is more a matter of discomfort than danger and can be treated with proper medical care.

Learning about Bipolar Disorder and what to expect is a good way to take some of the mystery out of the condition so it can be managed well.

It is important to remember that a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder is only as useful as the treatment one gets for it. Management of the condition is key. With careful management of symptoms and self-observation, people with Bipolar can live healthy, satisfying lives.

You may find our article on managing bipolar symptoms a good place to start.

[This blog post originally appeared on Teyhou’s website www.livingwithfinesse.com ~ some content may have been modified for the UK context.]

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