Published On: January 5, 2022
Reviewed On: January 8, 2022
Updated On: June 23, 2023
Updated on 12/16/2022
According to the American Psychiatric Association, there are four major categories of bipolar disorder (formerly known as manic depression): bipolar I disorder, bipolar II disorder, cyclothymic disorder, and bipolar disorder due to another medical or substance abuse disorder.
Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes extreme shifts in an individual’s mood and energy levels. It was formerly known as manic depression or manic-depressive illness. Although everyone experiences ups and downs in their life, there are severe shifts in mood and behavior characteristic to bipolar disorder that can seriously impact a person’s life and daily functioning.
A person with this disorder may experience periods of an extremely irritable or elevated mood defined as manic episodes, as well as episodes of depression. Both the manic and depressive periods can be brief – they might last for just a few hours or days – or the cycles might be longer, lasting up to several weeks or even months.
Each type of bipolar disorder is identified by the pattern of mania and depressive episodes. The treatment that is best for you may differ depending on the bipolar disorder type.
Common symptoms of a manic episode include three or more of these symptoms:
Common symptoms that occur in a major depressive episode include:
Bipolar I is defined by at least one manic episode that lasts a minimum of seven days, or by manic symptoms that are severe enough to require immediate hospital care. In Bipolar I disorder, depressive episodes might occur as well and typically last at least two weeks. It is also possible for someone struggling with Bipolar I disorder to have manic episodes with some depressive features or depressive episodes with some manic symptoms.
Bipolar II disorder consists of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes, but doesn’t include the severe manic episodes that can inhibit functioning that is characteristic of bipolar I disorder. People who have bipolar II disorder have experienced at least one hypomanic episode and one major depressive episode in their lifetime. Bipolar II disorder typically causes individuals to experience multiple major depressive episodes, unlike bipolar I disorder where major depressive episodes aren’t required.
Between experiencing periods of hypomanic and depressive episodes, the individual with bipolar II disorder is typically able to live life normally.
Understanding the similarities and differences between bipolar I and II disorders might be confusing, but the core differences lie in the intensity of manic episodes and the amount of major depressive episodes experienced. In bipolar I disorder, severe mania is experienced for at least one week, but in bipolar II, the less intense hypomania is experienced for at least four days.
Both emotional highs of mania and hypomania might consist of abnormally high levels of energy, inflated self esteem, racing thoughts, impulsive behavior, a decreased need for sleep, and excessive talkativeness, among other things. However, while severe mania might come with psychotic symptoms, impairment in functioning, and often requires psychiatric hospitalization, hypomania does not.
Both bipolar I and bipolar II disorders consist of shifts in mood, energy, and concentration. Other signs of these disorders might include: experiencing anxious distress, melancholy emotions, and psychosis. Depending on the timing of these bipolar symptoms, a person may be diagnosed with mixed episodes or rapid cycling.
This bipolar disorder type is a milder form of bipolar disorder which consists of cyclical periods of hypomanic symptoms as well as periods of depressive symptoms that last for days or even weeks. The highs and lows of cyclothymic disorder, however, are not severe enough to qualify as hypomanic or depressive episodes according to the bipolar test requirements.
Cyclothymic disorder, also known as cyclothymia, usually develops in adolescence. People with the condition often appear to function normally, although they may seem “moody” or “difficult” to others. Those struggling with this condition will often not seek treatment because their mood swings do not seem severe, but if left untreated, cyclothymia can increase the risk of developing bipolar disorder.
Some bipolar disorders don’t have a specific pattern or don’t match the three categories of disorders listed above and yet, they still align with the criteria for abnormal mood changes. For example, a person may experience mild depressive or hypomanic symptoms that last less than the specified amount for cyclothymia. Additionally, a person might experience depressive episodes, but have symptoms of mood elevation that are too mild or brief to be diagnosed as mania or hypomania.
These instances can be determined to be characteristic of bipolar disorder, but aren’t classified under the aforementioned types of bipolar disorder.
Treatment is available for all types of bipolar disorder. When it comes to how to treat bipolar disorder, the first step to recovery is to seek help from a medical doctor or licensed mental health care provider such as a psychiatrist. The professional will likely provide you with a psychological assessment for bipolar disorder and work with you to create a treatment plan specifically for you. You might also be asked to monitor your daily mood changes and sleep patterns through a mood chart to help with diagnosis.
Treatment for this disorder usually includes a variety of strategies to manage the condition over the long term such as therapy for bipolar disorder and medication. Since bipolar disorder is a chronic illness, treatment must be ongoing.
Medications are typically an important part of treatment and might include mood stabilizers, antipsychotic medications, or antidepressants. Such medications for bipolar disorder usually need to be taken regularly to be effective. If you have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, you and your doctor will work together to find the right medication or combination of medications for your unique needs. As everyone responds to medication differently, you may have to try several different medications before you find one that relieves your bipolar disorder symptoms.
With treatment and through an individual’s own efforts, people with all types of bipolar disorder can live rich, rewarding lives.
American Psychiatric Association (AMA). Published January 2021. Accessed October 20, 2021.
Mayo Clinic. Published February 2021.
Nimh.nih.gov. Published 2020. Accessed October 20, 2021.
NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness. Nami.org. Published 2017. Accessed October 20, 2021.
APA. Published 2017. Accessed October 20, 2021.
Ladan Nikravan Hayes is a Chicago-based writer and editor. She is published in publications such as USA Today, Chicago Sun-Times, Business Insider, and Gannett; and has worked with a number of brands, including Harley-Davidson, Wayfair, and Raleigh Bicycles, on their content marketing efforts.