What Is Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder that includes noticeably different high (manic) and low (depressed) moods. You usually have excessive energy and feel extra happy during a manic episode and extremely sad and lethargic during a depressed episode.

The degrees of highs and lows vary from person to person. At Huntsman Mental Health Institute (HMHI), we diagnose and treat all types of bipolar disorder with the latest therapeutic techniques, medications, and other treatments.

Bipolar Disorder Age of Onset

Bipolar disorder can occur at any age, but it is most commonly diagnosed in adolescence or your early twenties. Your symptoms may change over time and may not be the same symptoms as another person diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Why Choose HMHI?

We strive to use the latest research and methods to care for our patients and continually expand our services and treatment options. As a part of the University of Utah Health academic medical center, HMHI is able to collect data from clinical studies and combine this with our patient care to provide you with the highest quality treatment.

Additionally, our Treatment Resistant Mood Disorder Services Clinic (TRMD) is an important resource for people who struggle with bipolar disorder and symptoms that don’t respond to traditional treatments. It is the only TRMD clinic in Utah and one of the biggest clinics of its kind in the country.

Bipolar Disorder Episodes

All types of bipolar disorders are episodic, which means symptoms are not always present. Some people have frequent episodes, while others rarely have any. Untreated manic episodes usually last a few weeks to a few months. Depressive episodes tend to last longer without treatment—about six to 12 months. Most people have more depressive than manic periods.

Bipolar Disorder Triggers

Triggers for both depressive and manic episodes are life stressors such as:

  • losing your job,
  • breaking up with a romantic partner, or
  • receiving a bad grade at school.

Types of Bipolar Disorder

There are different types of bipolar disorder (formerly known as manic depression). The main types are:

  • Bipolar I Disorder — Your symptoms include at least one manic episode that may be preceded or followed by hypomanic (less extreme than manic) or major depressive episodes. Mania may include psychosis (break from reality).
  • Bipolar II Disorder — Your symptoms include at least one major depressive episode and one hypomanic episode, but don’t include a manic episode.
  • Other types of bipolar disorder — Your symptoms might come from using certain drugs, having a medical condition, or experiencing a physical event such as a stroke.

Bipolar Disorder Symptoms

Depression is the most easily recognized symptom of bipolar disorder. Symptoms of depression include:

  • feelings of sadness,
  • loss of interest in typically enjoyable activities,
  • sleep disturbances,
  • feelings of worthlessness or guilt,
  • unexplained changes in appetite, and
  • changes in mood.

Mania is associated with having a lot of energy and high productivity. It doesn’t occur as often as depression. People don’t always have symptoms of being extremely happy when they are experiencing a manic episode.

Symptoms of mania include:

  • acting impulsively,
  • engaging in high-risk behaviors such as doing drugs,
  • exercising poor judgment,
  • not sleeping,
  • excessive bursts of energy that result in periods of high productivity,
  • talking very fast,
  • racing thoughts,
  • elevated and/or irritable mood,
  • paranoia (e.g., people are following them or trying to harm them), and
  • psychotic symptoms, such as delusional beliefs that they have special powers. 

Manic symptoms can become dangerous if left untreated, so it’s important to seek help right away if you or your loved one are experiencing signs of mania.

Bipolar Disorder in Children & Teens

Symptoms can overlap with other conditions often experienced by kids, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), major depression, and anxiety disorders.

If your child has bipolar disorder, their symptoms might look different than those of adults. Kids often don’t express their feelings clearly, and they might not understand why they feel or act a certain way. If you think your child might have bipolar disorder, there are signs you can watch for.

Symptoms of kids having a depressive episode include:

  • frequent periods of unprovoked sadness,
  • outbursts of anger,
  • increased irritability,
  • complaining about physical pain such as stomachaches and headaches,
  • sleeping more,
  • feeling hopeless or worthless,
  • having difficulty concentrating,
  • eating too much or too little,
  • losing interest in activities they used to enjoy, and
  • thinking about suicide or death.

Symptoms of kids experiencing a manic episode include:

  • showing intense happiness or silliness for a long time,
  • having a short temper,
  • increased irritability,
  • talking fast and changing subjects frequently,
  • having trouble sleeping but not feeling tired,
  • difficulty focusing,
  • racing thoughts,
  • seeming overly interested or involved in risky activities, and
  • doing reckless things that show poor judgment.

Children and teens with bipolar disorder need different treatment than adults since their bodies and brains are still developing. Extra precautions must be taken when prescribing medications. Our pediatric mental health professionals received extra training and earned special certifications to care for children and adolescents in addition to our adult patients.

Learn How to Recognize the Signs of Bipolar Disorder in Your Child

What Causes Bipolar Disorder?

The exact causes of bipolar disorder are unknown. Biological differences, such as certain physical changes in your brain, may make you more likely to develop bipolar disorder. Genetic factors, such as having a parent or sibling with bipolar disorder, also plays a role. Researchers are currently trying to locate the genes responsible for causing bipolar disorder.

When to Get Help for Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder has distinct warning signs for when you or your loved one should seek immediate help. Signs include:

  • sleep disturbance, such as losing two consecutive nights of sleep;
  • paranoia;
  • psychosis;
  • contemplating suicide;
  • wishing you were dead; or
  • any other behaviors that concern you. 

If you or your loved one have experienced an episode of depression that lasted at least two weeks and an episode of mania that lasted at least one week, call your doctor for help. Your doctor can refer you to a mental health provider at HMHI for an evaluation and treatment.

Mental Health Crisis Resources

We are here for you when you need us the most. Our team of professionals are trained in:

  • mental health crisis management,
  • suicide prevention, and
  • emotional wellness.

HMHI provides the following specialty programs and resources for you and your loved ones to prevent mental health crises and provide emotional support when needed.

Picture of patient Chris and his wife Annalaura hiking

Hear From Our Patients

Chris struggled with mixed bipolar disorder episodes—a dangerous mix of severe depression and mania that keeps him hyper-focused on thoughts of suicide. He tried numerous medications and lifestyle changes, but wasn't responding well to either. After his sixth attempted suicide, he was referred to the Treatment Resistant Mood Disorders Clinic and tried electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) to stabilize his moods. ECT gave him the chance to be a dad and husband again.

Read Chris' Story

Contact our CrisisLine