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Bipolar disorder signs and symptoms

Bipolar disorder, also known as bipolar affective disorder, is characterised by periods of mania and depression, and can cause significant disruption in a person’s life. During manic episodes, bipolar disorder symptoms may include experiencing excessive energy, behaving impulsively and spending a great deal of time pursuing unrealistic goals. Depressive episodes cause symptoms such as sadness, low energy and a loss of ability to feel pleasure. Some people also experience mixed episodes, with symptoms of mania and depression occurring at the same time, and others may experience hypomania, which is a less severe form of mania.

Bipolar disorder can range in severity and people who struggle with the most severe form may also experience hallucinations or other forms of psychosis alongside their manic and depressive symptoms.

When a person is struggling with a substance addiction in addition to co-occurring bipolar disorder, these conditions can have a profoundly negative impact on all areas of an individual’s life. At Manor Clinic, our specialists have a wealth of experience in treating co-occurring bipolar disorder, equipping each and every one of our patients with the tools to effectively manage their bipolar disorder symptoms, overcome their addiction and achieve positive mental wellbeing.

What are the signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder?

Whilst each individual experiences bipolar disorder differently, the following are some of the most common manic and depressive symptoms that may indicate that a person meets the criteria for bipolar disorder.

Manic symptoms of bipolar disorder can include:

  • Excessive talking, rapid speech and racing thoughts
  • Spending a great deal of time on unrealistically ambitious projects and becoming frustrated or irritable with others who fail to support your unrealistic plans
  • Feelings of creativity and extreme self-confidence
  • Elevated mood, causing you to feel excessively happy, positive or excited for a sustained period of time, even in situations where this seems unexpected or inappropriate
  • Impulsive or reckless behaviours due to a lack of inhibition
  • Impaired judgement and decision making abilities
  • Shopping or gambling excessively, or spending huge amounts of money
  • Increased alertness
  • Intrusive, aggressive and generally inappropriate behaviour
  • Restlessness, excessive movement and needing to be ‘on the go’ all the time
  • Constantly wanting to be the ‘life and soul’ in any situation
  • Grandiose thinking, causing you to hold inflated and unrealistic opinions on your abilities, qualities and achievements
  • Inability to concentrate and becoming easily distracted
  • Reduced need for sleep
  • Appetite changes and weight fluctuations

Depressive symptoms of bipolar disorder:

  • Overwhelming feelings of sadness, hopelessness and despair
  • Uncontrollable crying
  • Extremely low self-esteem
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Low energy
  • Poor motivation
  • Fatigue and exhaustion
  • Tiredness, lethargy, or feeling physically weak
  • Anger and irritability
  • Slowed thought processes
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities – becoming uninterested in hobbies or activities that were once important to you
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • Memory problems
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Loss of interest in important relationships
  • Appetite changes and weight fluctuations
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Insomnia and other sleep disturbances

Individuals may also experience symptoms of psychosis during their depressive or manic episodes. Psychotic symptoms can include:

  • Visual and/or auditory hallucinations - causing people to see things that aren’t truly there or hear voices in their head that aren’t real
  • Delusions – whereby individuals develop powerful and irrational beliefs, which they hold even when presented with evidence that contradicts them

What are the long-term effects of bipolar disorder?

Without specialist treatment, co-occurring bipolar disorder can result in a whole host of devastating long-term problems, affecting all areas of your life and wellbeing. These may include:

  • Poor performance and/or attendance at work
  • Job loss and unemployment
  • Financial difficulties
  • Interpersonal relationship breakdowns
  • Increased risk of injury/illness as a result of reckless and poorly judged behaviours
  • Social isolation and chronic loneliness
  • Suicidal thoughts and impulses

This page was reviewed by Sarina Wheatman (FDAP) in October 2021.

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