Bipolar Disorder: Types, Causes, and Treatment


    Many people have experienced depression or anxiety at one time or another throughout their lives. Some people are even honest about what they’re experiencing. They share their issues with mental illness to help destigmatize it in the hopes of helping other people who might be having similar experiences.

    Depression, sometimes called the common cold of mental illnesses, and anxiety might be becoming less stigmatized over time. But another mental illness that doesn’t receive the same amount of attention is bipolar disorder. So, let’s change that.

    Read on to learn more about bipolar disorder, its symptoms, causes and treatment.

    What is Bipolar Disorder?

    Bipolar disorder is a chronic (lifelong) or episodic (arising from time to time) mental disorder. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that worldwide about 45 million people have bipolar disorder. When one has this type of illness, their mood, energy, day-to-day functioning, and sleep patterns can all be negatively affected. People generally think that someone with bipolar disorder will be extremely “happy” or “high” – in other words, manic and that this mania will eventually turn into depression.

    This characterization of bipolar disorder is somewhat correct. Bipolar disorder used to be called a manic-depressive mental illness. Some people with this disorder will experience a manic episode, which, at some point later, will then experience a depressive episode. Still others will only experience the mania side of their disorder. There is more to bipolar disorder than these two symptoms and how people who have this disorder express it.

    What Causes Bipolar Disorder?

    Determining the cause of a mental illness is not always clear. One cause of bipolar disorder is that it’s mostly hereditary – that a cluster of genes are responsible for this disease. However, this is not always a predictor of who will have bipolar disorder. A parent could have this disorder but none of the children or even the children’s children have this disorder.

    Aside from genes, a chemical imbalance is considered another cause. One neurotransmitter, specifically, might be the cause of the highs and lows found in bipolar disorder. High levels of  noradrenaline can cause mania, while low levels can cause depression.

    The environment, too, can be a cause for this disorder. Abuse and neglect are some examples that might trigger a bipolar episode.

    Types of Bipolar Disorder and Their Symptoms

    More than just a high and a low, people with bipolar disorder can experience a wide range of symptoms and those symptoms can help determine what type of bipolar disorder they’re experiencing.”There are four types of this disorder. Learn more about them here:

    Before discussing the types of bipolar disorder, let’s define the symptoms associated with these types first. Mania or a manic episode can entail impulsivity, rapid speech and racing thoughts, reckless behavior, a feeling of being high or irritable, or even, in some cases, a break from reality (psychosis). Hypomania comprises the same symptoms but without the possibility of psychosis. People who experience hypomania can function better with their day-to-day living compared to those who experience manic episodes. People must have had at least one episode of mania or hypomania to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder along with depression.

    Depression involves a mood marked by lethargy, too much or too little sleep, weight loss or weight gain, poor or strained decision making, and negative thinking. Other symptoms of depression are feelings of guilt and even thoughts of suicide. To be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a person must experience an episode of depression that will have lasted for at least two weeks and either one manic or hypomanic episode.

    The first type of bipolar disorder is called bipolar I. Bipolar I, which can begin around 18 years of age, can happen equally to females and males. Its symptoms include the following:

    • A manic episode
    • A depressive episode
    • A mixed episode (experiencing mania and depression simultaneously)

    Bipolar II, the second type, is more common among females than males. Onset is around age 22. People with bipolar II can exhibit the following symptoms:

    • A hypomanic episode
    • A depressive episode

    The third one is called cyclothymic. With this type, the symptoms are not as severe as those found in hypomania or depression and usually don’t impede a person’s ability to function in day-to-day activities. These symptoms can be characterized as the following:

    • An “up” episode
    • A “down” episode

    Although not necessarily a type, “other specified and unspecified bipolar and related disorders” captures the symptom of high mood elevation. Yet, this symptom does not fit the criteria for the other three types of bipolar disorder.

    Diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder

    Brains scans of people with bipolar disorder have been shown to be slightly different from those who don’t have this disorder. Although, this isn’t enough to diagnose someone with bipolar disorder. A mental health professional will determine if the symptoms a person is experiencing fits with any of the types for this disorder.

    Treatment for Bipolar Disorder

    Bipolar disorder is a lifelong disorder, so it’s important to treat it and treat it early. Medication therapy is important in the management of this disorder. Antipsychotic and mood stabilizing drugs are the preferred treatment.

    Other forms of treatment are psychotherapy, which can help a person develop skills to deal with their disorder, talk about issues that might potentially trigger an episode, and understand their disorder and how to recognize when an episode is about to happen.

    Related treatment is self-care and the support of family and friends. This type of treatment, though, is not a substitution for medication therapy.

    With more awareness of bipolar disorder and the different types, people with bipolar disorder might begin to feel more comfortable speaking openly about how this disorder has affected them and their relationships and what we can do to support them. This discussion can help to break down the stigma surrounding this disorder in particular and mental illness in general.


    Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.



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