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What are the Three Main Types of Bipolar Disorder?

Did you know that there are three main types of bipolar disorder? Each of these kinds has specifiers; however, every person is unique in how they experience. 

Did you know that there are three main types of bipolar disorder? Each of these kinds has specifiers; however, every person is unique in how they experience. 

These are the three main types of bipolar disorder:

  • bipolar I disorder
  • bipolar II disorder
  • cyclothymic disorder

Extra features that can occur are psychosis, anxiety, and changes within seasons. 

Today’s mental health professionals use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) criteria to diagnose bipolar disorder. They will take into account your symptoms, how often they occur, and how severe they are.

There is no specific way that a person lives with bipolar disorder – every person has their own unique experience.

If you or someone you know may be experiencing one of the kinds of bipolar disorder, understanding how they differ and what the symptoms are like can help. Some treatments and resources can be useful in managing the condition and help a person thrive. 

Bipolar I Disorder

The main criteria for diagnosing bipolar I disorder is having had at least one manic episode.

Many people who have bipolar I experience both depressive and manic episodes. However, a depressive episode isn’t necessarily required to be diagnosed with bipolar I. 

When a person experiences a manic episode, it must last for a minimum of 7 days to be bipolar I. If the manic episode doesn’t last that long, it can still be a symptom if you had to go to the hospital for treatment. 

Also, people diagnosed with bipolar I disorder usually have other mental health conditions. These could include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), substance use disorders, eating disorders, psychosis, and anxiety disorders.

What are some symptoms of mania?

  • A high mood, feeling elated, or experiencing irritability 
  • Feeling more wired and active than normal 
  • Racing thoughts
  • Less need for sleep 
  • Talking fast about many different things at once (flight of ideas)
  • Urge for pleasurable activities like drinking, sex, food, or others
  • Believing you can do many things at once without feeling exhausted 
  • Feeling unusually important or powerful 

What are the symptoms of bipolar depression?

  • Low moods, feeling extremely down or sad
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling restless or slowed down
  • Sleep issues, like trouble falling asleep, oversleeping, or waking up too early 
  • Talking slowly, forgetting things, or feeling like you don’t have anything to say 
  • Loss of interest in activities 
  • Difficulty doing the simplest of tasks
  • Feeling worthless or hopeless
  • Thoughts about death and/or suicide 

Bipolar II Disorder

Bipolar II disorder is like bipolar I disorder, but with some crucial differences.

For a bipolar II disorder diagnosis, a person must have experienced at least one depressive episode and a minimum of one hypomanic episode. 

Hypomanic episodes differ from manic episodes by how long they last and their severity. Hypomanic episodes are considered less intense, even though they can be debilitating.

Many people with bipolar II find treatment for their depressive symptoms. Hypomania can feel more pleasant — some may feel more productive, have more energy, and express more creativity during these episodes. Hypomanic episodes can get overlooked because the person may not even know that they’re having symptoms due to a mental health condition. 

People diagnosed with bipolar II often have other mental health conditions, as well.

What are some symptoms of hypomania?

  • Inappropriate behavior, like making rude remarks at a social gathering
  • Hypersexuality
  • Jumping from one topic to an unrelated one when speaking
  • Less need for sleep
  • Spending money recklessly
  • Taking chances you normally wouldn’t take
  • Talking fast, making it difficult for others to follow what you’re saying
  • Unusual irritability, hostility, or aggression

Cyclothymic Disorder

If you experience symptoms of both hypomania and depression, but don’t fit the criteria for a full mood episode, you may have a cyclothymic disorder.

Also known as cyclothymia, people with the cyclothymic disorder experience their symptoms for a minimum of two years. The symptoms also do not stop for more than two months at a time. 

Additional Specifiers

Even if two people have the same type of bipolar disorder, they will experience different things. In essence, additional qualifiers can add context to your specific type of bipolar disorder. 

Types of additional specifiers can include:

  • mixed features
  • anxious distress and melancholic attributes 
  • rapid cycling (with or without catatonia) 
  • atypical features or psychotic attributes 
  • onset due to peripartum
  • patterns with changes of seasons

Medical professionals may also determine if mood episodes are partially or fully in remission. They can also determine how severe your depressive episodes are. 

How Is Bipolar Disorder Diagnosed?

To provide a diagnosis for bipolar disorder, a medical professional will perform a complete exam, order medical testing to ensure it’s not another illness, and put in a referral for a psychiatrist to evaluate the person.  

What Are the Steps for Receiving Treatment?

Seeing a mental health professional is an excellent first step to determine a treatment plan for bipolar disorder. With the proper tools, resources, strategies, and medications, many people can manage their conditions and live fully. 

When you have received a diagnosis, doctors generally recommend certain medications, counseling or therapy, self-management tools, and changes to your lifestyle. 

Communities and resources are essential for supporting mental health. These organizations can be beneficial when looking for help:

  • Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. 
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Hotline. 
  • American Psychiatric Association.
  • The National Alliance on Mental Illness. 

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Billie Olsen

MODEL: Billie Olsen

Billie Olsen (she/they) is a lifestyle writer, disability justice advocate, and cozy femme located in Kelowna, BC, Canada. Their works have appeared in Metro News, Discorder, Sophomore Magazine, the Post-Feminist Post, DINE Magazine, and NerdReader.