An Introduction To Bipolar Disorder

There is no person who can say they haven’t had a mood swing without lying. However, most of us will feel calm after a short time, instead of slipping into an episode of that emotional state. While this is true for most of us, some of us will slip into an emotional state. Those that do are most likely to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a form of mental illness.

First and Foremost, What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression, is a lifelong mental illness that causes extreme mood swings that include emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression). The earliest mentions of bipolar disorder date back to 460-370 B.C. in Hippocrates’ medical literature. In the medical book, he describes it as having two extreme moods, feeling extremely low and feeling extremely energized.

Emotional “Lows”

When an individual is experiencing their emotional “low,” depressed, they may feel sad and/or hopeless and lose interest/pleasure in most activities. At times, it may even be hard to get out of bed because you feel so low.

Major depressive episodes include symptoms that are severe enough to cause noticeable difficulty in day-to-day activities, such as work, school, social activities or relationships.

Picture By Eduardo Vazquez

Symptoms of Emotional “Lows”

A depressive episode includes five or more symptoms listed. One of them is a depressed mood. This can appear as feeling sad, empty, hopeless or tearful; in children and teens, a depressed mood can appear as irritability. Another symptom may be marked loss of interest or feeling no pleasure in all — or almost all — activities. A symptom may be a significant weight loss when not dieting, weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite; in children, failure to gain weight as expected can be a sign of depression.

Other symptoms of the depressive episode may also include, either insomnia or sleeping too much, either restlessness or slowed behaviour, fatigue or loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt, decreased ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness and thinking about, planning or attempting suicide.

Emotional “Highs”

During the emotional “highs” or mania/hypomania, an individual may feel euphoric and full of energy. It is also possible for the person to feel unusually irritable. It may feel as if there is heaven on earth and you feel extremely energetic for no reason.

Picture By Lidya Nada

Mania and Hypomania

Mania and hypomania are two distinct types of episodes but have the same symptoms. Mania is more severe than hypomania and causes more noticeable problems in the individual’s life than hypomania would. Mania also has the possibility of triggering a break from reality, psychosis, and may sometimes need to be hospitalized because of this.

Symptoms of Emotional “Highs”

Both manic and hypomanic episodes include three or more of the symptoms listed, abnormally upbeat, jumpy or wired, increased activity, energy or agitation, an exaggerated sense of well-being and self-confidence (euphoria), decreased need for sleep, unusual talkativeness, racing thoughts, distractibility, poor decision-making.

These extreme mood swings can affect sleep, energy, activity, judgment, behaviour and the ability to think clearly. These episodes of mood swings may occur rarely for some while some may experience it multiple times throughout the year.

Most people with bipolar disorder also experience some emotional symptoms between episodes, but not all do. Since it is a lifelong condition, it is possible to only manage the condition with a treatment plan that is most medications and psychotherapy.

Different Types of Bipolar

Bipolar disorder does not just have one type; there are several different types of bipolar disorder. They are Bipolar I, Bipolar II, Cyclothymic disorder, and there are some other types too.

Bipolar I

To be classified as having bipolar I disorder, an individual would have had at least one manic episode that may be followed by a hypomanic or a major depressive episode. In some cases, mania may also trigger a break from reality. This is called psychosis.

Bipolar II

For an individual to be diagnosed with bipolar II disorder, they must have had at least one major depressive episode and at least one hypomanic episode but never had a manic episode. It is to be noted that bipolar II is not a milder form of bipolar I. Bipolar II is a separate diagnosis. Even though the manic episodes of bipolar I can be severe and dangerous, those diagnosed with bipolar II can be depressed for a longer period that can potentially cause significant impairments.

Cyclothymic Disorder

To be classified as a patient with the cyclothymic disorder, a person would have had at least two years, one year in children and teenagers, of several periods of hypomania symptoms and periods of depressive states that are not as severe as major depressive states.

Other Features of Bipolar Disorder

Other features of bipolar disorder can include such as anxious distress, melancholy, psychosis or others. The timing of symptoms may include diagnostic labels such as mixed or rapid cycling. Besides, bipolar symptoms may occur during pregnancy or change with the seasons.

There is not a certain age that bipolar disorder occurs, but it is mostly diagnosed in the teenage years or early 20s on average. As with any other illness, symptoms vary from person to person and with time.

Visual Representation of Bipolar Emotional State

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

Symptoms in children and teens can be difficult to identify. They may have distinct major depressive or manic or hypomanic episodes, but the pattern can vary from that of adults with bipolar disorder as moods can rapidly shift during episodes. Some children may also have periods without mood symptoms between episodes. The most notable signs of bipolar disorder in children and teenagers may include severe mood swings, different from their usual mood swings.


As of right now, there is no cure for bipolar disorder. The only treatment available is to help it manage the illness through medications and therapy. To date, scientists have neither identified the main cause nor found a cure to the illness. Although it is not curable yet, there are treatments available for the person with bipolar disorder to experience longer periods of emotional stability or free of the symptoms.

Pills for Bipolar Disorder


We have come a long way since the earliest mentions of the illness, but we still have a long way to go. Until the barrier surrounding mental illnesses is broken down, there is no way we can fully understand the illnesses and the brain structures of those with the illness. The studies on mental illness are progressing quite fast, but for it to progress at an exponential rate, we all have a little part to play whether it be being open to listening or encouraging to talk or just talking about it and spreading your voice to give inspiration to others. Every single one of us can play our part.


  1. Bipolar disorder has been around for a long time since 460–370 B.C.
  2. People with bipolar disorders experience emotional “highs” (mania/hypomania) and “lows” (depressive state).
  3. There are different types of bipolar disorder, Bipolar I, Bipolar II, and Cyclothymic disorder.
  4. Diagnosing bipolar in children is harder than in adults.
  5. On average, bipolar is diagnosed during an individual’s early 20s.
  6. As of right now, there is no cure nor have we found the definite cause of the bipolar disorder. There are only treatments available to manage it better.

About the Author

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