Written by:Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD

Published On: September 28, 2021

Medically reviewed by: Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, MSW

Reviewed On: September 29, 2021

Updated On: June 23, 2023


Updated 7/18/2022

Finding an answer to the question: how do I know if I have bipolar disorder can feel overwhelming. Some would even say it’s daunting. But it doesn’t have to be.

If you suspect you or a loved one has bipolar disorder, you’re probably looking for answers to gain a better understanding of the condition. There’s a common misconception that having bipolar disorder simply means experiencing wild mood swings. Unfortunately, it is misconceptions like this one that can make it difficult to truly research how to know if you or a loved one are bipolar. The thought of dealing with a bipolar diagnosis can be scary, but knowledge is power when it comes to navigating a bipolar disorder diagnosis. Learning more about any mental health condition can help you deal with it.

Read on, as we discuss the signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder, how to know if you have it, what treatment options are available, and more.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic-depressive disorder or manic depression, is a mental health condition defined by extreme mood swings with episodes of mania, hypomania, and depression. While mania and hypomania are two types of “mood episodes” differing in severity, both feature the same symptoms. There are different types of bipolar disorder including bipolar I, bipolar II, and cyclothymia identified by patterns of mania and depressive episodes.

  • Bipolar 1 disorder: Bipolar 1 is defined by at least one manic episode that lasts a minimum of seven days, or by severe manic symptoms that require immediate care.
  • Bipolar 2 disorder: Bipolar 2 includes at least one hypomanic episode and one major depressive episode. It does not include severe manic episodes found in Bipolar 1.
  • Cyclothymic disorder: Cyclothymic disorder (also called Cyclothymia) is a milder form of bipolar consisting of mild hypomanic symptoms and periods of depressive symptoms that last for days or even weeks.

Bipolar symptoms in men may vary with those found in women. Those with bipolar may also have another co-occurring disorder, including bipolar depression, major depression, or anxiety, which can worsen symptoms.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder includes high periods of mania (commonly thought of as “highs”) and low periods of a depressed mood (the “lows” that many people will feel). If you’re asking yourself, “how do I know if I have bipolar disorder,” there are several signs and symptoms to be aware of and to look out for. Most importantly, you should know that there’s help available.

So, how do you know if you have bipolar disorder? Of all the bipolar symptoms, the first to be aware of is that you’ll typically go through periods of mania and depression. These periods are more than just mood changes. A bipolar episode of mania (extreme highs) and depression (dark lows) can last 7 days or longer, with people having symptoms of either every day. Both bipolar 1 disorder and bipolar 2 disorders consist of shifts in mood, energy, and behavior, but symptoms can vary depending on the type of bipolar dealt with.

If you want to learn how to know if you have bipolar disorder, look for any of the following signs of mania and bipolar depression.

Manic and hypomania

Manic episodes in bipolar disorder can include 3 or more of the following bipolar disorder symptoms:

  • Uncontrollable racing thoughts
  • Feeling oddly or unusually upbeat
  • Insomnia or feeling like you don’t need sleep
  • Impulsivity and restlessness
  • Overconfidence
  • Enhanced sense of well-being
  • Poor decision making
  • Grandiose thinking
  • Risk-taking behaviors
  • Being distracted/unable to focus

Major depressive episode

Major depressive episodes in bipolar disorder can include five or more of the following symptoms:

  • Low energy
  • Having suicidal thoughts
  • Thoughts about hurting yourself
  • Low or no appetite
  • Noticeable weight loss or weight gain
  • Crying episodes
  • Withdrawal from friends/family
  • Lack of interest in former hobbies
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling overly guilty
  • Feeling worthless

“Signs and symptoms are not always black and white, which can add undue stress and anxiety. If possible, take time to connect with a provider who can help you understand the difference between mood and relational issues. Often overlooked is the tenant of relationships, that can drive patterned behavior in personality disorders versus aspects of mood in depression for example.”

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), BCD, C-DBT Ashley Ertel

Given that there is often overlap in different mental health conditions and their symptoms, it is important to understand the difference between borderline personality disorder vs bipolar disorder, as well as bipolar vs depression.

How To Know If You Have Bipolar Disorder

If you think you may have bipolar disorder, it’s important to look at how this mental health condition might be impacting your daily life. While getting a professional diagnosis is the best way to truly determine if you do have bipolar disorder, there are some things you can look for on your own.

In bipolar disorder, mania and depression can act together to create a constant rollercoaster of emotions that most people (those who are bipolar, as well as the friends and family members who love them) find difficult to deal with.

To find out how to know if you are bipolar, you can first ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you have symptoms of mania and/or symptoms of depression?
  • Do you experience episodes of psychosis that are related to another illness?
  • Does your depression and/or mania frequently occur in cycles?
  • Does your depression and/or mania affect your daily life?

These questions can help to differentiate whether your symptoms are more aligned with bipolar vs. depression on its own. It’s important to remember that depression and sadness are two different emotions, and mania and happiness are different as well.

Symptoms of bipolar disorder can often mimic other illnesses like ADHD , major depressive disorder, and schizophrenia. Perhaps surprisingly, they can also mimic non-psychiatric diseases such as syphilis, HIV, and lupus.

These are all reasons that seeking professional help is so essential in getting a diagnosis. Talk to your doctor or a mental health care professional for more about how to know if you are bipolar.

“Trying to understand new symptoms can feel emotionally uncertain. If you can simplify your routine to alleviate stress, you can make more room for support and a space for psycho-education. Both can help establish stability and maintain important relationships when navigating a new diagnosis.”

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), BCD, C-DBT Ashley Ertel

Is Bipolar Disorder Treatable?

Figuring out if you have bipolar disorder is just the first step. The next is learning about how and where to get treatment. The good news is this: bipolar disorder is a treatable condition. Like many other mental health conditions, with the help of experienced and skilled professionals, you can find a way to live a full life after a bipolar disorder diagnosis.

We feel it’s important to acknowledge that a bipolar disorder diagnosis can be frightening, especially at the beginning of the journey when so much is unknown. It’s also important for you to understand that if left untreated, bipolar disorder can have serious consequences. It’s essential to learn more about how you can recognize symptoms so you can focus on how to treat them.

If you’re asking yourself, how do I know if I have bipolar disorder, you’re well on your way to a positive path toward finding treatment and learning how to move forward. And if you’ve recently found out that you have bipolar disorder, it’s time to start the process of beginning to look at bipolar disorder treatment options and learning how to handle bipolar disorder in relationships.

What treatment options are available?

Finding out you’re bipolar can be seen as a positive thing. A proper diagnosis allows you to begin seeking the help and treatment you need. Because bipolar disorder is treatable, just like any other mental health condition, finding the right help from the right mental health professional is critical.

A bipolar disorder diagnosis doesn’t always have to be scary. If you’re ready to start looking at bipolar disorder treatment options, your doctor, therapist, or psychiatrist might recommend any of the following as good places to start.

  • Medication: Medication, like some antidepressants, mood stabilizer, and antipsychotics, can be used after diagnosis. They can help balance mood changes and potentially help treat both a manic episode and depressive episode, address anxiety, and resolve sleep issues. Bipolar medication should be taken as directed and never stopped without the guidance and supervision of your provider.
  • Day treatment: Day treatment programs can offer support and reassurance as you learn to manage your bipolar depression symptoms.
  • Continuous treatment: Lifelong treatment, including therapy and medication, is most often necessary to live a fulfilling life. Even during periods where someone is feeling better, it’s really important to continue a course of treatment.
  • Hospitalization: A hospital can offer the type of psychiatric care that may be needed during the most extreme major depressive or manic episodes.
  • Therapy
  • Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy (IPSRT): IPSRT relies on the idea that consistent routines can help you manage your moods. Sleeping, eating, and exercising will all be focused on.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): By using CBT, you can focus on looking for triggers to episodes. Then you can come up with a plan to avoid them or learn how to deal with them. CBT helps you identify negative, unhealthy behaviors or thoughts, so you’re able to replace them with more positive, healthy ones.
  • Psychoeducation: Psychoeducation can help you learn about bipolar disorder so you can identify issues and make a plan before a mood episode starts. It can also help you stay committed to seeking treatment.
  • Family-focused therapy: Family-focused therapy has been proven effective in helping someone with bipolar disorder stay with their treatment plan.

Discover the Signs

How do you know if you have bipolar disorder? The first step is reaching out for professional help, especially if you’re having thoughts of suicide.

When you talk to a doctor or mental health professional, be sure that you’re honest about your bipolar symptoms and feelings. There are a number of things you can do to monitor and track feelings and symptoms leading up to and during the mood episode. Some tactics that have been known to help include:

  • Keeping a journal
  • Writing down or logging moods
  • Identifying risk factors like family history and genetics
  • Being honest about stressful life events that might be a trigger

Remember, it’s okay to ask for help. Finding out if you have bipolar disorder is crucial. Only then can you seek early intervention, which is the single best thing you can do to learn to live a fulfilling life after a bipolar disorder diagnosis. Ready to explore your symptoms? Take our bipolar disorder test today.

See References

Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD

Ashley Ertel, LCSW, is a Nationally Board Certified Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She has over a decade of experience specializing in trauma and depression, working primarily with first responders, military personnel, and veterans, and sexual assault survivors.

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