Updated on 5/16/2022
Bipolar disorder is characterized by major shifts in energy and mood levels that are so severe they impact daily functioning. Though bipolar disorder is becoming a more commonly understood mental health condition in our society, when we talk about it specifically as it relates to men, there often seems to be a disconnect in that understanding.
Bipolar disorder affects 2.8% of adults in the United States and slightly more men are affected by it than women are. While gender doesn’t seem to have a huge impact on who can develop bipolar disorder, it does play a rather significant role in how it presents. Part of this is because bipolar disorder affects both psychological and emotional states, which can differ in men and women.
Bipolar disorder symptoms in men can be somewhat tricky since men may be more prone to denying when there is a problem. This likely has a direct correlation to the societal norm that teaches men that showing emotion is a sign of weakness.
Read on to learn more about what signs of bipolar disorder in men you should know about, how it differs in men and women, and what to know about finding treatment.
How Bipolar Disorder Differs in Men
Bipolar disorder can present quite differently in men than it does in women. There are a few key differences that are important for us to note.
- Onset: Bipolar disorder can have an earlier onset in men than it does in women. Women also might have more extreme mood swings or disturbances with a seasonal pattern.
- Episodes: Men generally have fewer depressive episodes and mixed mania than women do. They also have less rapid cycling than women.
- Bipolar II disorder: This type of bipolar disorder is typically less common in men than women, which means less depressive episodes.
- Comorbidity: Having both psychiatric and medical disorders is less common in men than women. Substance abuse in addition to bipolar disorder is more common for men. Women, by contrast, typically have a comorbidity of thyroid disease, obesity, migraines, or anxiety disorders more often than men do.
“While the bipolar disorder symptoms experienced by men do not differ much from those experienced by women, the challenge is in men understanding and acknowledging these symptoms since in many cultures in our society, these symptoms are valued or devalued based on gender. For example, the extreme overconfidence and feeling great that comes with mania can be perceived in men as simply being a confident masculine man. In contrast, when grappling with depressing symptoms, men often do not want to admit those feelings because they don’t want to be perceived as being “weak’. These cultural norms can make it more challenging for men to acknowledge and be properly diagnosed with Bipolar.”Talkspace therapist Jill E. Daino, LCSW-R
Signs & Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder in Men
Men and women can have widely varying differences in the signs and symptoms they experience when they have bipolar disorder. Discussing and understanding them is essential because signs of bipolar disorder in men are often linked to why both diagnosis and treatment are often put off. As with most mental health conditions, seeking treatment and early intervention is the best predictor of successfully managing bipolar disorder.
Men are much more likely to have a severe manic episode where they have extreme highs, a lot of unexplained energy, and feel little to no need for sleep. This differs from women in that women much more commonly experience a depressive episode that is specific to bipolar disorder. The mania experienced by a man can last anywhere from multiple days to several months during any given episode. Manic episodes can lead to a complete loss of touch with reality. Men are also more likely to have severe aggression during a manic episode.
Common bipolar symptoms in men regarding mania episodes:
- Expressing intense happiness
- Talking very fast
- Having racing thoughts
- Having a short temper
- Being excessively irritable
- Showing an inflated sense of self
- Having poor judgement
- Exhibiting reckless and violent behavior
When men experience a depressive episode associated with bipolar disorder, they’re more likely to be angry and irritable than women are. Since societal norms deem aggression as a common attribute to the male sex, violent behavior that’s due to bipolar disorder can first be seen as acceptable. Thus, a diagnosis might not be made as timely or appropriately as it should be. Additionally, it can be difficult to know if you have bipolar disorder vs. depression without a proper diagnosis because of the depressive episodes.
Common bipolar symptoms in men regarding depressive episodes:
- Feelings of sadness or hopelessness
- Eating too much or not enough
- Feeling lonely while isolating from others
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sleeping too much
- Substance abuse
- Suicidal thoughts
How to Deal with Bipolar Disorder in Men
Men might be extremely sensitive to the idea that they’re dealing with a mental health condition like bipolar disorder. Due to this, it’s important to be cognizant of what they may be feeling and experiencing.
If you’re dating someone with bipolar disorder, noticed symptoms in a family member, or worried about a man in your life who you think may have untreated bipolar disorder, you can begin with a simple conversation. Here are some ways you can broach the subject if you’re seeing any common bipolar symptoms in men:
- First, it’s important to make sure the conversation is private. Finding a neutral, safe place can express your respect for his privacy. It can also help reinforce the idea that he can feel confident and comfortable if he chooses to confide in you.
- Begin the conversation by reinforcing the idea that you care deeply and are concerned about his well-being.
- It can be difficult, but try to resist presenting the issue emotionally if you can.
- Don’t come to the conversation with a laundry list of behaviors you find erratic or questionable. Try to avoid antagonizing him as much as possible. This can help prevent him from becoming defensive.
- Reassure him that you believe what you’re seeing might be something that’s beyond his control.
- Explicitly state that many mental health conditions can be effectively treated and that you’re willing to stand by him to get him the help he needs.
Finding Treatment for Men with Bipolar Disorder
Though bipolar disorder in men is generally considered a lifelong mood disorder, treatment can help. The road may not be easy, and it might take some time and several different efforts before a treatment plan is in place that’s as effective as possible.
The first step in any of this is getting a diagnosis so you can then find help. Next, it’s going to be extremely important to maintain consistent treatment once a good plan is in place. This can be difficult for some men who, as they start to feel better, may desperately want to stop their treatment. A strong support system is often key to managing bipolar disorder. There is good news, however — it can be done.
The Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health notes that there is an 80% success rate for bipolar disorder treatment.
“Bipolar is treatable. You do not have to suffer alone. Reaching out for help is an important step. Reaching out to your doctor or a licensed mental health professional can be the first step to address your symptoms and get support.”Talkspace therapist Jill E. Daino, LCSW-R
There are several treatments for bipolar disorder.
- Talk therapy (also known as psychotherapy) can include effective techniques like family-focused therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or a combination of the two.
- Bipolar disorder medications like an antipsychotic and a mood stabilizer are common and effective treatments. Sometimes antidepressants are used, but this medication must be monitored closely because they can sometimes lead to manic episodes.
- Self-help techniques and self-management strategies are useful as well. Mindful meditation, yoga, eating a healthy diet, exercising, and getting enough sleep will all be important in maintaining a bipolar disorder. Education is also essential in that it can help recognize early symptoms of an episode.
Wondering how to know if you are bipolar? If you, or someone you know, think you may have bipolar disorder, start with a bipolar disorder test to learn more. From there, connect with a licensed therapist that can help with a diagnosis and bipolar disorder treatment.