Many people believe that bipolar disorder is characterized by fluctuating manic and depressive episodes — extreme highs and extreme lows. While there’s some truth to this simplistic characterization, bipolar disorder is more complex than that, and this can make diagnosis tricky.
If you’re concerned that your or a loved one may have bipolar disorder, Dr. Diana Ghelber and the team here at the Institute for Advanced Psychiatry pulled together eight of the more common signs of this mental health condition.
Before you read this, it might be helpful to refer back to this previous blog that describes the three types of bipolar disorder.
Now, let’s take a look at some signs to watch out for.
Your age isn’t a “sign,” of bipolar disorder, but a condition. What we mean is that the average age of onset for bipolar disorder is between 18 and 29. While a bipolar disorder can strike when you’re outside of this age range, the majority first become aware of the problem in their 20s.
The manic episodes that come with bipolar disorder go far beyond just feeling good. These episodes can be dangerous as the person feels invincible, which can lead to reckless behavior. Manic episodes can last for weeks on end with no respite and, in extreme cases, require hospitalization so that people don’t harm themselves or others.
Another aspect of a manic episode are feelings of grandiosity — you feel important and want everyone around you to know that you’re important.
People in the midst of a manic episode often don’t sleep or eat all that much. Worse, when they do eat, they often turn to foods that aren’t all that good for them, such as eating nothing but ice cream for days on end.
The other side of the bipolar equation are depressive episodes that come with:
There’s no timeline for these episodes and they can last from weeks, to months, to years.
The prevalence of substance use disorders among those with bipolar disorder is three to six times higher than the general population. People with bipolar disorder often try to self-medicate to control their mania or depression.
Hallucinations or delusions can occur during both a manic or depressive episode. For example, you may believe that you're guilty of something you had nothing to do with during a depressive episode. Or, you might believe that you have a special gift during a manic episode. These delusions are what we refer to as psychoses.
While bipolar disorder tends to develop in early adulthood, kids can have the disorder, which can be very hard to diagnose. For example, a manic episode can look a lot like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder as your child can’t sit still, acts silly, talks incessantly, etc.
In a depressive episode, they may become irritable and withdrawn, which can also occur as they pass through puberty.
As you can see, bipolar disorder can be very difficult to properly diagnose, at any age, since it shares so many symptoms with other mental health issues. If you suspect that you or a loved one may have bipolar disorder, your first, and most important, step is to come see us for a professional diagnosis.
To get started, contact one of our two offices in Fort Worth or Granbury, Texas, to set up an appointment.