Everyone experiences a range of emotions, from happiness to feeling a bit blue. Bipolar disorder (formerly called manic-depressive disorder or manic depression), however, is different from normal emotional highs and lows. With bipolar disorder, mood shifts can seem sudden and extreme and lead to abnormal behaviors. But how can you tell if someone is bipolar? Understanding the signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder is the first step in helping your loved one manage this condition.
What is Bipolar Disorder?
It has yet to be discovered exactly what causes bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that’s thought to be caused by a combination of physical, social, and environmental factors. People with this condition often experience extreme mood shifts; they may experience manic episodes or are debilitatingly depressed. In some cases, they may even experience a mixture of elation and depression at the same time.
Bipolar disorder can be chronic, meaning episodes occur at somewhat predictable intervals or don’t fully go away. It can also be episodic, with symptoms arising at unpredictable intervals. The average age of onset is 25, but it is also seen in teens, and, less commonly, in children.
Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
The severity of bipolar disorder symptoms ranges from almost imperceptible to extremely noticeable. There’s a misconception that those with bipolar disorder are either extremely depressed or very excitable. While these two extremes are not uncommon, there are many subtle, “in-between” symptoms that people with bipolar disorder may experience.
If you’ve noticed extreme mood swings — for instance, uncharacteristically euphoric, energetic, or irritable — they may be experiencing a manic episode. The other side of that spectrum is a depressive state, in which they might be uncharacteristically fatigued, upset, sad, or hopeless.
These are just a few examples of how to tell if someone is bipolar.
Manic episodes in people with bipolar disorder usually include noticeable changes in mood and behavior. Some of the most common signs that someone may be experiencing a manic episode include:
- A disrupted sleep pattern: When in a manic phase, people with bipolar disorder may seem to need less sleep and will be active at times they normally rest.
- More active, hyper, or jumpy: Activity levels tend to increase during manic episodes. A person can also appear “amped-up” or jumpy, as if they’ve had too much coffee.
- “Flight of ideas”: A rapid speech pattern and jumping from one subject to the next is frequently seen.
- Amplified feelings of euphoria or being high: People with bipolar disorder may be mistaken for being under the influence of stimulants during manic episodes.
- Heightened irritability: In addition to feeling “up,” people experiencing a manic episode can also become very touchy or irritable.
- Delusions of grandeur: Many bipolar individuals experience disproportionate feelings of power or importance. They may also feel somewhat invincible and take on many tasks at once.
- Increased appetite for pleasurable activities: Whether it’s eating, sex, drinking, shopping, or something else, during manic episodes, people may participate in enjoyable activities to excess.
Mania is dangerous in that it clouds judgment. Even the most prudent and responsible individuals can lose sight of the safety and well-being of themselves and others during manic episodes.
Depressive episodes are the counterpart to manic episodes. Normally energetic, bright people can experience depression, which makes it difficult to function normally. The signs and symptoms of a depressive episode may include:
- Sleep disruptions: During a depressive episode, it’s not unusual for a person to wake up earlier than normal, have difficulty falling asleep, or sleep excessively.
- Decreased energy and activity: Finding the energy to do even the most simple of tasks can feel exhausting and even impossible to someone in the midst of a depressive episode.
- Anxiety and sadness: Marked depression and anxiety commonly accompany other depressive symptoms.
- Slowed speech and easily losing track of thoughts: It’s not uncommon for people in a depressive state to lose track of their thoughts. They may also speak more slowly and have trouble concentrating on the topics at hand.
- Feelings of hopelessness: In contrast to a manic episode, those who are depressed can feel hopeless, helpless, and worthless, and may even contemplate suicide.
- Lack of interest: When facing depressive episodes, people often have little or no interest in anything.
If you or someone you love is struggling with bipolar disorder, you don’t have to forge ahead alone. Here at Olympus Recovery, our compassionate experts can help you navigate the ups and downs of this disorder. Give us a call today at 888-897-8137
How to Support a Loved One With Bipolar Disorder
How to tell if someone is bipolar is one thing. The difficulty is how frightening and confusing it can be when someone you love is not themselves. Your first inclination may be to go on as though nothing is different, but this can be harmful to both of you. Understanding the condition can help you be a stronger support system when they’re having difficulties.
Take Care of Yourself
To be helpful to your loved one, you need to take care of yourself — first and foremost. No matter what your situation, be sure you’re getting enough sleep and maintaining your own health and hygiene routines. Call time-outs or take a break when you feel overwhelmed. Take a walk, call a friend, or schedule a counseling session. Do whatever you need to maintain your sense of wellness or get back on track.
Don’t Gloss Over Bipolar Disorder
It’s normal to think you should pretend nothing has changed. Unfortunately, ignoring the problem will only make it more difficult for both you and your loved one to navigate the manic and depressive episodes successfully. They may start to feel invalidated, unseen, or like they’re “crazy” if no one acknowledges what’s happening and offers support.
Be Ready for Manic Episodes
Create a plan together for handling manic episodes. This will not only make your life easier but should give your loved one peace of mind knowing what to expect. During manic episodes, people can become unreasonable or irrational, making it difficult to handle the situation. Have a solution for every possibility. Things to consider:
- Does your loved one display aggressive or dangerous behaviors when manic?
- Do you need to put a temporary freeze on credit cards and bank accounts to prevent excessive spending?
- Does your loved one need help sticking to daily routines and schedules so they get enough sleep and sustenance?
- Will your loved one need professional intervention?
Talk Openly About Challenging Behaviors
When your loved one is not experiencing manic or depressive issues, discuss the behaviors that you find most difficult. This can be a challenge, but remaining calm and avoiding criticism can go a long way toward a productive discussion. Be sure to point out how you feel about their actions, rather than accusing, blaming, or belittling.
“I” statements can be helpful. For instance, you might say, “I feel worried when I notice you’re not sleeping.” Although the difference might seem subtle, this means something else and is received better than, “You make me worry when you don’t get enough sleep.”
Learn to Recognize Triggers and Warning Signs of Impending Episodes
The adage “Forewarned is forearmed” is very appropriate when you care about someone with bipolar disorder. Learning to look for and recognize the first signs of an oncoming episode will help you mentally prepare to provide the support they’ll need.
When to Seek Professional Help
After you’ve learned how to tell if someone is bipolar, the best course of action is to seek professional help. Sometimes, however, seeking help for a loved one struggling with mental illness can seem overwhelming. Beyond just finding the right fit, you might be worried they’ll become angry or resentful. Ideally, you and your loved one will work together to arrange professional help. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible.
If you feel your loved one is in danger — for instance, participating in activities that may be harmful (drinking too much, engaging in irresponsible sexual behaviors, overspending) — it’s essential they get treatment to break the manic cycle. On the depressive end of the spectrum, if you’re worried their depression is causing them to consider self-harm, they need medical intervention to treat their depression.
If you’re worried your loved one may be at risk due to bipolar behaviors, don’t hesitate to call us at 888-897-8137. One of our specialists can walk you through the next steps in getting help.