Signs & symptoms of bipolar disorder
Sometimes, a person may seem abnormally and continuously high, happy, expansive and euphoric, or irritable, angry, disruptive and aggressive, for at least one week. If this change in mood is accompanied by at least three of the following symptoms, the person may be in a manic phase of bipolar disorder:
- exaggerated self-esteem or feeling of grandeur
- less need for sleep
- increased talking
- flight of ideas or racing thoughts
- speeded-up activity
- poor judgment
- psychotic symptoms.
The symptoms of hypomania are less severe than those of mania: the person may feel happy and have a lot of energy, but his or her life usually is not seriously disrupted. Hypomania may progress to a full-blown manic episode or a severe depression, and therefore needs treatment.
Symptoms of depression in bipolar disorder include at least five of the following, which must be present for at least two weeks and must be present most days all day:
- depressed mood
- marked loss of interest or pleasure in activities that used to be enjoyable
- weight loss or gain
- insomnia or hypersomnia (oversleeping)
- apathy or agitation
- loss of energy
- feelings of worthlessness and guilt
- inability to concentrate
- thoughts of suicide (which should always be taken seriously).
People with bipolar disorder may experience psychotic symptoms, such as losing touch with reality, hearing voices or having ideas that are not based in reality. Psychotic symptoms can be very frightening for the person having them and for others. Up to 25 per cent of people experiencing episodes of depression or mania also have problems with movement, called catatonic symptoms. These may include extreme physical agitation or slowness and odd movements or postures.
People with bipolar disorder who have psychotic or catatonic symptoms are sometimes incorrectly diagnosed as having schizophrenia, another severe mental illness.
Causes & risk factors
We do not know the precise cause of bipolar disorder. However, there is strong evidence that biological factors, including genetics, play an important role. Stress or difficult family relationships do not cause the illness. However, these factors may trigger an episode in someone who already has the illness.
Adapted from Bipolar Disorder: An Information Guide © 2000, 2013 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health