Bipolar Disorder Causes, Symptoms & Signs

The signs of bipolar disorder can often be difficult to identify. Once an individual identifies the symptoms and side effects of bipolar disorder, the next step in the recovery journey become clear.

Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Learn about bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorders include a group of several serious mental illnesses that are associated with extreme shifts in mood states that can range from intense euphoria and happiness to periods of depression. While every person experiences ups and downs in daily life, people who have a bipolar disorder experience these changes in mood in a far more extreme manner that can last for days, weeks, or even months. These shifts in mood can cause serious effects for an individual if care is not sought.

The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders provides the specific criteria that must be met in order for a person to be diagnosed with one of three types of bipolar disorders. Bipolar I disorder involves periods of intense mania and depression, while bipolar II includes periods of hypomania (a milder form of mania) along with periods of deep depression. Cyclothymic disorder involves periods of milder mood elevation that alternates with periods of milder depression. Individuals who have rapid-cycling bipolar disorder experience four or more cycles of mania and depression over a 12 month period.

Unfortunately, many of the symptoms of bipolar disorder are not immediately recognized as being related, so many people live with bipolar disorder without the proper treatment and support needed. However, with the right medication(s), therapies, and support, people with bipolar disorders are able to live healthy lives.


Bipolar disorder statistics

Bipolar disorder is thought to affect nearly six million individuals over the age of 12 in the United States. While the average age of symptom onset is 25, this mental illness can impact individuals in childhood or later in life. Men and women across all age, ethnic, and social groups suffer equally from bipolar disorder. Sadly, research also shows that one in five individuals who have bipolar disorder attempts suicide, which further demonstrates the importance of receiving care for this illness.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for bipolar disorder

Researchers are not entirely certain why one individual develops bipolar disorder while another does not. Bipolar disorder is generally thought to be the result of a number of factors working together. However, the commonly known causes for bipolar disorder include the following:

Genetic: It is generally believed that bipolar disorder runs in families. Individuals with family members who have the disorder are more likely to develop the disorder than others. Therefore if a person has a parent or sibling with this illness, the risk for then experiencing this disorder is high.

Environmental: There are a number of environmental influences that are linked to triggering bipolar disorder symptoms, as well as those that can worsen existing symptoms. These environmental influences can include extreme stress, lack of sleep, seasonal changes, and substance abuse.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of bipolar disorder
  • Personal history of substance abuse
  • Experiencing a great deal of stress
  • Exposure to violence or crime
  • Being the victim of abuse or some other trauma
  • Family history of other mental health concerns

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder

The symptoms of bipolar disorder can vary among individuals and present differently depending upon which cycle is experienced by the person. The following symptoms are those that may manifest during a depressive or manic episode:

Depressive episode

  • Hopelessness
  • Guilt
  • Sadness
  • Poor work or school performance
  • Frequent absenteeism from work or school
  • Difficulty meeting obligations at work or school
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Over or undereating
  • Anxiety symptoms
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Chronic pains without physical cause
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulties with concentration
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors

Manic episode:

  • Inflated self-esteem
  • Poor judgment
  • Rapid, pressured speech
  • Increased risk-taking behaviors
  • Racing thoughts
  • Aggression
  • Increase in physical activity
  • Increased amounts of energy
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Euphoric bliss
  • Agitation or irritation
  • Increased libido
  • Decreased need for food
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Poor decision making
  • High distractibility
  • Frequent absences from work or school
  • Risky usage of drugs and alcohol
  • Impulsive choices


Effects of bipolar disorder

Individuals who do not receive treatment for bipolar disorder are likely to experience numerous effects that can be far-reaching across several areas of life. Some of the most common effects that can occur include:

  • Health consequences related to engaging in risky sexual behaviors
  • Substance abuse that could lead to addiction or chemical dependence
  • Worsening of physical health conditions
  • Worsening of mental health
  • Damages in interpersonal relationships
  • Mounting legal problems
  • Social isolation
  • Divorce
  • Incarceration
  • Financial ruin
  • Joblessness
  • Homelessness
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Self-harm

Co-Occurring Disorders

Bipolar disorder and co-occurring disorders

Bipolar disorder often occurs alongside other mental illnesses. Among those that could be present, the following are the most common:

  • Substance use disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Conduct disorder
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  • Arkansas Hospital Association
  • Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)
  • The Joint Commission (JCAHO) Gold Seal of Approval
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The doctors and nurses at Riverview Behavioral Health recognized the unique problems of my child.  They provided treatment that put her back on the right track.

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