According to the National Institute for Mental Health, nearly 6 million adult Americans are affected by bipolar disorder.

Bipolar Disorder is often misunderstood. After reading this article, you will better understand what is bipolar disorder and the typical symptoms. You will also learn ways you may be able to support a loved one living with it.




Bipolar disorder (formerly called manic-depressive disorder or manic depression) is commonly a genetic disorder and often develops during teenage years, though it can develop earlier or later in some cases. It is a mental disorder characterized by extreme changes in mood, thoughts, and behavior. These extreme mood changes are different from “normal” mood changes in that they are extreme and for no apparent reason.

Many of us have experienced someone who has a sudden change in mood. Even from one hour or one minute to the next, their mood changes. We say, “he (or she) is so bipolar.”

But the truth is, it’s not that simple.

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), “People with bipolar disorder experience intense emotional states that typically occur during distinct periods of days to weeks, called mood episodes. These mood episodes are categorized as manic/hypomanic (abnormally happy or irritable mood) or depressive (sad mood). People with bipolar disorder generally have periods of neutral mood as well.”

Mood shifts can be experienced as commonly as day to day or as rare as once a year.




Individuals with bipolar disorder exhibit different symptoms depending on whether they are experiencing a manic or depressive episode.

An individual in the midst of a manic episode may seem abnormally self-confident without explanation. They may not be sleeping for extended periods of time and do not experience fatigue. They may also be more aggressive or irritable than normal without understanding why.


Typical symptoms of manic episodes include: 
  • Extreme irritability
  • Overaggressive behavior
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Abnormally high levels of energy
  • Over inflation of self-importance or self-confidence


An individual in the midst of a depressive episode may sleep an abnormal amount and isolate themselves from social interaction. They may have an extreme loss of energy and experience unexplained periods of exaggerated sadness.


Typical symptoms of depressive episodes include:
  • Extended periods of unexplained sadness
  • Extreme loss of energy
  • Extreme worry or anxiety
  • Sleeping too much
  • Social withdrawal and lack of engagement in previous interests



How to Support Someone with Bipolar Disorder


Watching a loved one suffer through an episode can be intimidating and overwhelming. But there are a few things you can do to help.



As with any mental health disorder, understanding is key. Understand and learn about the disorder. Ask questions to better appreciate their plight. While they are not in the midst of an episode, find out what they need most from you when they are in the throes of an episode. But more importantly, be understanding, kind, considerate and empathetic.


Don’t Take It Personally

Remember, this is not something they can control. They find themselves flung into a manic or depressive state, for no apparent reason. It is not directed at you, though it may feel as though it is.


Provide Validation and Non-Judgement

Showing frustration, disapproval, judgement or making them feel abnormal only worsens their experience. Instead, validate their feelings. Let them know it is okay to experience sudden mood changes. Reassure them you are here to support them.


Identify Triggers and Make a Plan

When they are in a stable, status-quo state, work with them to identify triggers or experiences that tend to initiate episodes. Help them avoid those triggers if and when possible. Consider, with the help of a professional, developing a plan to help them manage manic and depressive episodes. Being prepared for episodes will help them (and you) learn to handle them more effectively.


Seek Professional Support

An experienced therapist can create a suitable treatment plan and help them understand and process their experiences with their disorder. And if you feel overwhelmed, working with a professional can also be valuable for you. You will better be able to endure the vicissitudes of bipolar disorder with the guidance of a licensed professional.


If you suffer from bipolar disorder, please know that it is not something that has to control the way you live. According to the American Psychiatric Association, “when treated, people with bipolar disorder can lead full and productive lives.”





Are you or a loved one struggling with bipolar disorder? Do you want to better manage and minimize episodes? Request a Free Phone Consultation by completing the brief form below. One of our team members will reach out to learn more about your specific circumstance and discuss whether our practice and which therapist may be a good fit for your needs. We would like to help you live a life you love. We hope to hear from you soon.