4 Different Types of Bipolar Disorder, and How They’re Treated

Clinically Reviewed by Amy Cirbus Ph.D, LMHC, LPC
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Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes extreme shifts in a person’s mood and energy level. While everyone experiences ups and downs, and depending on the type of bipolar disorder, there are severe shifts in mood and behavior that can seriously impact on a person’s life.

A person with bipolar disorder may experience periods of an extremely elevated or irritable mood (called manic episodes) as well as episodes of depression. Both the manic and depressive periods can be brief, from just a few hours to a few days. Or the cycles can be much longer, lasting up to several weeks or even months.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, there are four major categories of bipolar disorder: bipolar I disorder, bipolar II disorder, cyclothymic disorder, and bipolar disorder due to another medical or substance abuse disorder.

Different Types of Bipolar Disorder

Each disorder type is identified by the pattern of episodes of mania and depression. The treatment that is best for you may differ depending on the type of bipolar disorder you have.

Bipolar I disorder

This type of bipolar disorder is diagnosed when manic episodes last at least seven days and are accompanied by psychotic features, or the manic symptoms are severe enough to require immediate hospitalization to prevent harm to oneself or others. Depressive episodes, typically lasting at least two weeks, also often occur. A person may have manic episodes with some depressive features or depressive episodes with some manic features.

Bipolar II disorder

Mania is not involved in bipolar II disorder. Instead, the illness involves recurring episodes of major depression and hypomania, a milder form of mania. In order to be diagnosed with bipolar II disorder, you must have experienced at least one hypomanic episode and one major depressive episode in your lifetime. In bipolar I disorder, a major depressive episode (one or more) usually occurs, but it is not required. Bipolar II disorder involves one or more major depressive episodes. Common symptoms that occur in a major depressive episode include:

  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Unexplained or uncontrollable crying
  • Severe fatigue
  • Loss of interest in things the person typically enjoys
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide

Cyclothymic disorder

Cyclothymia is a milder form of bipolar disorder. Like bipolar disorder, cyclothymia consists of cyclical mood swings. However, the highs and lows are not severe enough to qualify as either mania or major depression.

The condition usually develops in adolescence. People with the disease often appear to function normally, although they may seem “moody” or “difficult” to others. People will often not seek treatment because the mood swings do not seem severe. If left untreated, cyclothymia can increase your risk of developing bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder due to another medical or substance abuse disorder

Some bipolar disorders don’t have a specific pattern. They also don’t match the other three disorders. Yet, they still have to meet the criteria for abnormal mood changes.

For example, a person may experience mild depressive or hypomanic symptoms that last less than the two years specified for cyclothymia. Another example is if a person has depressive episodes, but their symptoms of mood elevation are too mild or brief to be diagnosed as mania or hypomania.

Help is Available for All Types of Bipolar Disorder

With treatment and through their own efforts, people with bipolar disorder can live rich, rewarding lives. Treatment for bipolar disorder usually includes a variety of strategies to manage the disease over the long term. Because bipolar disorder is a chronic illness, treatment must be ongoing.

Medications are typically an important part of treatment. Those medications may include mood stabilizers, antipsychotic medications, or antidepressants. Such medications usually need to be taken daily and regularly to be effective. If you have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, you and your doctor will work together to find the right drug or combination of drugs for your needs. Because everyone responds to medication differently, you may have to try several different medications before you find one that relieves your symptoms.

Can Talkspace prescribe medication?

With a Talkspace Psychiatry subscription, you will receive treatment from a psychiatrist trained in mental health care and prescription management who can provide you with necessary medication. 

Psychotherapy, too, is often an important part of treatment.

Do psychiatrists do talk therapy?

Psychiatrists are trained medical doctors who are also able to practice a number of psychological treatment options including psychotherapy (also known as talk therapy) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), depending on the needs of each patient. 

There are a number of treatment options, you have to find what’s best for you. If your doctor determines that you have bipolar disorder, he or she will explain your treatment options. You may also be referred to another mental health professional, such as a psychologist or a bipolar disorder specialist. Together, you will work with your healthcare providers to develop a personalized treatment plan.

Commonly Asked Questions

Although psychiatrists and psychologists are both trained to help individuals improve their mental health and wellbeing, there are many key differences between the two professions. In short, a psychiatrist is a medical doctor and a psychologist is not. Psychiatrists are not only able to offer psychological treatments, but pharmacological treatments as well. Psychiatrists are able to prescribe medications, diagnose mental illness, and guide treatments for severe mental illness alongside psychological treatments. Psychologists are limited to providing psychological treatment options, such as psychotherapy, to help their patients.

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