The Difference Between Bipolar Disorder and Normal Ups and Downs

Bipolar disorder, a disease formerly known as manic-depressive illness, manifests as behavioral and mood abnormalities due to changes in the brain. But what does it mean to have bipolar disorder, and how can we distinguish it from normal ups and downs we experience in our day-to-day lives? Telling the two apart can be tricky for somebody who doesn’t know the signs, and it is important to be able to recognize whether or not you or one of your family members needs to seek help.

Life Is Filled With Changes

One day you might be feeling on top of the world. You might feel like you have a lot of energy and you might be very productive. The next day you might be feeling run down, lethargic and a bit tired or depressed. This is normal and happens to everyone sometimes. Just because you notice these things in people, or experience them yourself, doesn’t mean that you should immediately jump to the conclusion that you are bipolar. There are some hallmark characteristics of somebody who has bipolar disorder, and trained clinicians can distinguish between a normal change in mood and a disorder that requires medical attention.

Signs of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is characterized by intense and often prolonged periods of mania and depression. One of the important characteristics of these periods is their persistence. If you feel very upset and depressed one day, and are very excited and happy the next, it is unlikely that you have the disorder. These periods of depression and mania must last at least seven days before they can be medically classified as manic or depressive episodes. Although there is a type of bipolar disorder that cycles rapidly, most of the time these mood shifts stretch on for months and months.

To identify a manic episode specifically, it is important that the behavior and consequences meet certain criteria. For example, the manic episodes are not usually related to drugs or medication, and must not be a result of other diseases. The manic episode will cause social and work-related difficulties and will often result in poorly thought out decisions by the person.

People with bipolar disorder mania will often tell you they can do things that are not possible for a person to realistically accomplish, and will be overambitious to the point of detriment. For example, a manic person might not sleep for days on end because he wants to finish a project he is convinced will make him missions of dollars. Mania is not simply feeling great. It often carries many other problems with it, such as delusions of grandeur, symptoms of psychosis, and even anger or frustration.

A manic person will often have racing thoughts that jump from one place to another. The manic person may also have physical symptoms such as excess sweating, twitching, pacing or weight loss. When you put all of this together, mania clearly shows itself as more than just an elevated mood.

In addition to manic phases, people with bipolar disorder will go through depressive phases. To classify a depressive episode, a number of symptoms need to be present. A depressive phase in a patient with bipolar disorder will look very much like unipolar depression, meaning that often these patients are misdiagnosed with major depressive disorder.

The most common symptoms are those that show that the person is particularly anhedonic. This means they no longer derive pleasure from things that once were, and are usually, pleasurable. This includes socializing, eating and intimate relations, among others. People in a depressive state will often feel a lack of self-worth and have suicidal ideations. They will often feel general anxiety, social anxiety and will often inflict self-harm. These phases may include delusions, and in extreme cases, hallucinations.

Help for Bipolar Disorder or Uncontrollable Moods

If you or somebody you know needs help for a mental health disorder, it’s very important to see a doctor as soon as possible. While the effects of this particular disease can be unpleasant for all, they can also be dangerous. The person may act impulsively in either a state of mania or a state of depression, and this can often lead to self-harm. For these reasons it is important to seek help as soon as possible. For more advice on how to find treatment for mental health issues, call our toll-free helpline today. Our highly trained admissions coordinators are available 24 hours to take your call.