Signs Your Loved One Has Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder, a serious mental health condition, is the sixth leading cause of disability among 15 to 44-year olds. Complicating things, many individuals with bipolar disorder also have high rates of co-existing psychiatric and medical conditions.

Unfortunately, bipolar disease is difficult to diagnose because the symptoms can vary widely in pattern, severity, and frequency. Up to 70 percent of bipolar patients are initially misdiagnosed, delaying appropriate treatment or subjecting patients to ineffective treatments.

Bipolar disorder is characterized by typically prolonged mood changes, which can range from manic at one extreme to severe depression at the other. Patients can also experience both states simultaneously (called a mixed state), or cycle through extreme mood swings in a short amount of time. In addition to mood, bipolar disorder affects energy level, judgment, memory, concentration, appetite, sleep patterns, sex drive, and self-esteem.

During a manic, or euphoric, phase, patients feel intensely happy or high. They may go on a spending spree, make unwise financial choices, demonstrate unrealistic beliefs in their abilities, or take on a new, goal-oriented act.

While bipolar depression symptoms are similar to signs of regular depression, they are more likely to involve irritability, guilt, unpredictable mood swings, and feelings of restlessness. Individuals with bipolar depression also tend to move and speak slowly, gain weight, sleep a lot, or suffer from chronic pain for which there is no known cause.

Some bipolar symptoms are similar in both manic and depressive states, such as loss of interest in activities, changes in eating or sleeping patterns, and problems with memory and concentration. Mania and depression can last for days, weeks-even months. Some patients, on the other hand, swing quickly from one extreme to the other.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the most prominent signs of bipolar disorder in children include explosive temper, rapid mood shifts, reckless behavior, and aggression. Children may exhibit multiple symptoms within a day.

So how do you discern if your symptoms (or a loved one's) are just normal difficulties, or something more serious?

Individuals with bipolar disorder typically have a poor quality of life, and high rates of unemployment, work absenteeism, or work impairment. If your symptoms are so profound they interfere in your ability to function, you should visit a qualified mental health professional. Fortunately, bipolar disorder is treatable when properly diagnosed.


National Institute of Mental Health. "What is Bipolar Disorder?" Web. 15 April 2009.

"Managing Bipolardisorder: Misdiagnosis and Quality of Life." The American Journal of Managed Care 11 (2005): S267. Web. 9 October 2005.

Smith, Melinda, M.A., and Segal, Jeanne, Ph.D. "Understanding Bipolar Disorder." Web. October 2012.

Mayo Clinic. "Bipolar Disorder." Web. 18 January 2012