Surprising Symptoms Of Bipolar Disorder

As many as 20% of people being treated for depression actually have bipolar disorder. When most people think about bipolar disorder, they typically think about “up and down” or “happy and sad,” but it is so much more than that.

Since the symptoms can be surprising, it can take an average of ten years from the first sign of symptoms before finally being treated for bipolar disorder. About half of all individuals see an average of 3 professionals before being properly diagnosed. Bipolar disorder is treatable, but that depends on having the correct diagnosis first. With information compiled from Healthline, WebMD, Active Beat, and Help Guide, here are some symptoms of bipolar disorder that are more than just the “high” or “low” typically associated with the diagnosis.

  • Racing thoughts and fast speech, or sluggish thoughts and slow speech. People who are experiencing a manic or hypomanic (mild mania) episode tend to have thoughts zipping through their head so quickly that they can’t keep up. This is evident in their speech. They’ll talk so quickly that they may not be understandable, and they may get frustrated when asked to slow down. They can’t understand why people aren’t keeping up with their racing thoughts. On the other hand, people experiencing depression tend to have sluggish thoughts and noticeably slow speech.
  • Anger or aggression. This is one of the symptoms separating unipolar depression from bipolar depression. It can also be a symptom of mania or hypomania. If anger or aggression is out of character, it should be seen as a possible symptom of bipolar disorder.
  • Overconfidence. This may look like a person who is usually too shy to participate in karaoke suddenly deciding they’re going to be a world-famous pop star. Or somebody who likes to write occasionally may start talking about how they’re going to be a millionaire best-selling author within a year. In their mind, their big ideas are realistic and plausible, but they seem hopelessly out of touch to others.
  • Impaired judgment and risky behaviors. This may manifest in such activities as compulsive gambling, reckless driving, or participating in risky sexual behaviors without any concern for consequences such as unintended pregnancy or STDs. Their actions may represent an attitude that they don’t care whether they live or die and they can’t see into the future far enough to worry about long-term consequences.
  • Increased or decreased need for sleep. People suffering from manic or hypomanic episodes have so much energy that they function on very little sleep without feeling tired. Their racing thoughts may prevent them from resting, and the need to use their excessive energy can keep them from going to bed. On the other hand, those suffering from depression can sleep all day and all night and never feel rested. They may start napping regularly, even after getting nine or more hours of sleep a night.
  • Increased or decreased appetite. Manic people tend to be too busy chasing after their racing thoughts to be bothered to eat, or they may have more energy to eat more than usual. Depressed people might not have any desire to eat or they might try to fill the emptiness they feel in their souls with food.
  • Drug or alcohol abuse. Those with bipolar disorder, especially if they have not yet been properly diagnosed, tend to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Weed, for example, might calm the racing thoughts caused by mania. Alcohol might drown out symptoms of depression. This can be one of the biggest risks amongst people with undiagnosed bipolar disorder.

This is not a comprehensive list, and there are several different types of bipolar disorder. If you or someone you know experiences several of these symptoms, especially after treatment for depression, it may be time to talk to a doctor about the possibility of bipolar disorder being the proper diagnosis.

It’s important to note that people with bipolar disorder are more likely to attempt suicide than those suffering from unipolar depression. Their attempts also tend to be more lethal.

Warning signs of suicide include:

  • Talking about death, self-harm, or suicide
  • Feeling hopeless or helpless
  • Feeling worthless or like a burden to others
  • Acting recklessly, as if one has a death wish
  • Putting affairs in order or saying goodbye
  • Seeking out weapons or pills that could be used to commit suicide

If somebody you know is displaying any of these symptoms, or if you are experiencing any of these symptoms yourself, please get help immediately. Generally, people are not displaying these symptoms just to get attention, they are usually genuine cries for help. You never want to wonder what you could’ve done to prevent a suicide.

If you or someone you care about is suicidal, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the U.S. at 1–800–273-TALK or visit IASP or to find a helpline in your country.

Bipolar disorder is treatable, but the first step is getting the correct diagnosis. Antidepressants alone can cause mania, hypomania, or rapid cycling between mania and depression. A psychiatrist can find the best medication or combination of medications to treat bipolar disorder. Therapy is also usually recommended.

If you’d like to reach out to somebody who’s been there, I have bipolar disorder and will respond to comments and emails as quickly as I can (I have 3 jobs, so give me half a day, at least).