Reviewed by Tanya Harrell, PhD, LPC, NCC
Bipolar Disorder was once known as “Manic Depressive Disorder,” so named for its distinct set of symptoms. Despite the apt nature of the name, it can actually be difficult to tell if what you are experiencing is a series of Bipolar Disorder symptoms, depressive disorder symptoms, or something else entirely, such as Borderline Personality Disorder. To understand the true, reliable signs and symptoms of Bipolar Disorder, however, a thorough understanding of the disorder and its risk factors is required.
How Do You Know If You Are Bipolar? Signs and Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar Disorder is not something that you are; it is something you may have. This distinction is important, because people who suffer from Bipolar Disorder may feel as though they are constantly defined by their disorder by themselves and others and, although it certainly plays a role in their lives, no one with any type of disorder or disability is entirely their disorder or their disability; they are people first, who have a disorder or condition.
Having established that Bipolar Disorder is one facet of a person and not the sum of a whole, the nuances found in Bipolar Disorder become important: someone with Bipolar Disorder is not necessarily someone who is constantly on edge or flipping from high to low or hot to cold on what seems like a constant loop. Instead, people with Bipolar Disorder exhibit symptoms of mania and depression separately, with days or weeks between each type of episode. To understand the highs and lows associated with Bipolar Disorder, a quick rundown of clinical diagnostic requirements is necessary.
A Bipolar Disorder diagnosis can only come after a thorough investigation of an individual’s symptoms. In order to qualify for a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, a patient has to have symptoms such as:
- A period of a “high”. There are three different types of Bipolar Disorder, and all of them are marked by a period of feeling a “high.” In Bipolar Disorder I, the high is quite severe, and often involves mania severe enough to warrant hospitalization or difficulty functioning. This mania may last up to seven days. In Bipolar Disorder II, the high may be a manic episode or may be a hypomanic episode, wherein the person in question feels a temporary relief from the symptoms of depression. In Cyclothymic Disorder, the high is much more likely to be a hypomanic episode, and will typically not last more than a few days.
- A period of a “low.” In Bipolar Disorder I, the low of the disorder can last two weeks or more and is a more severe level of depression than the depression found in Bipolar II and Cyclothymic Disorder.
- During manic episodes, people with Bipolar Disorder may struggle to sleep or sit still and may speak more quickly than is typical. They may also move from thought to thought quickly and engage in speech patterns that are jerky, disjointed, or difficult to follow.
- During depressive episodes, people with Bipolar Disorder may feel sluggish and have difficulty concentrating. Sleep needs may increase, but sleep disturbances may prevent restful sleep, and speech patterns may change, becoming slower than is typical, and filled with pauses and uncertainty.
Although constant mood swings are often mistakenly attributed to Bipolar Disorder, the symptom list above demonstrates that this is quite inaccurate; as the name “Bipolar” suggests, Bipolar Disorder is characterized by two single “poles” of behavior: highs and lows. These highs do not swing up and down throughout the day but are instead observed in longer periods, over days or weeks.
Am I Bipolar or Depressed?
A discussion of Bipolar Disorder almost inevitably involves a discussion about depression, because the two are related, and can easily be confused for one another. What is significant to note is that, although they share some symptoms, the conditions are actually very different in the way they are expressed and the way they are treated. While depression is frequently treated successfully with psychotherapy as the primary form of treatment, Bipolar Disorder typically requires some type of pharmaceutical intervention.
Learning to Recognize Bipolar Disorder: Using a Bipolar Disorder Quiz
Using a bipolar quiz can be useful, as it can provide a quick and easy idea of how likely it is that you are exhibiting Bipolar Disorder symptoms. Although a simple quiz or test is not going to be substantial enough to deliver a clinical diagnosis of any disorder, quizzes—especially quick, easily accessible quizzes—can provide a wonderful impetus to reach out for help; after all, if you feel as though you are being too dramatic, or are blowing things out of proportion, or cannot possibly ask for help, the peace of mind and reassurance that comes from seeing an objective evaluation of your symptoms has the potential to spur you to action.
Bipolar Disorder quizzes should not be considered a diagnostic tool, or an excuse to avoid visiting a mental health professional or another medical professional. Instead, these quizzes are designed to measure symptoms, and determine the likelihood of a particular disorder or condition in order to arm people with greater knowledge and understanding of their symptoms, in order to be more self-assured and effective self-advocates. Walking into a primary care doctor’s office or mental health clinic feels far less intimidating and overwhelming if you can say “I believe I am showing symptoms of XYZ” than walking into one of these establishments with a hesitant, “I feel like something might be wrong.” Although a medical professional can certainly work with someone who does not have an idea of what their symptoms might mean, it is often reassuring and soothing for people to have an idea of what they might be looking at before stepping foot into a practitioner’s office.
Learning to Recognize Bipolar Disorder: Taking a Bipolar Questionnaire
Bipolar questionnaires are often given in clinical settings after you have secured a visit to a mental health professional. A Bipolar questionnaire differs from a Bipolar quiz primarily in its depth and questioning; while a quiz is likely to be between 10 and 15 questions, and focus on targeted questions, a Bipolar Disorder questionnaire might ask a great deal about family history, your own health background, duration of symptoms, and the severity of symptoms, to provide the mental health professional or other professionals with a more robust picture of your particular set of symptoms, and your own unique needs.
Taking a Bipolar Disorder questionnaire is typically also used as a self-measurement tool. While a Bipolar quiz can be useful in helping you determine whether or not your symptoms are related to Bipolar Disorder, a questionnaire forces you to think long and hard about your symptoms, the symptoms you might have witnessed in your family, and the manner in which those symptoms affect you. A Bipolar questionnaire might reveal that you are at high risk for having Bipolar Disorder, or it may reveal that your experience is far closer to that of an anxiety or depressive disorder apart from Bipolar Disorder.
Dangers Associated with Bipolar Disorder
Learning to recognize the symptoms of Bipolar Disorder is important because Bipolar Disorder is characterized by large shifts in a person’s mood and behavior. The shifts associated with Bipolar Disorder are not mere mood swings, or daily or hourly ups and downs—those shifts are far more reminiscent of a Borderline Personality Disorder—but are instead significant and powerful changes to a person’s ability to function, characterized by a particular high and a particular low. These changes can be severe enough to warrant hospitalization and can present a very real health risk.
Am I Bipolar?
Learning how to tell if you’re Bipolar (exhibiting symptoms of Bipolar Disorder) takes time and plenty of research, as the term “bipolar” has been co-opted and incorrectly used for far too long. If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “I think I’m Bipolar,” or found yourself asking “How do I know if I’m Bipolar?” the first step is education; learn the signs and symptoms of Bipolar Disorder, including the different types and levels of severity. Learning more about the disorder can either provide peace of mind, revealing that you do not possess the requisite symptoms to qualify as having Bipolar Disorder or can reveal the need to visit with a mental health professional to have a proper evaluation done.
While it can be frightening to find that you have a lifelong condition or chronic disorder such as Bipolar Disorder, Bipolar Disorder is a treatable illness. With medication, therapy, and a careful, consistent examination of all symptoms and signs, people with Bipolar Disorder can expect to live a relatively normal life. While intense highs and lows are an expected part of having Bipolar Disorder, they do not have to present the intense danger and fear often seen in manic and depressive episodes. Learning that you have Bipolar Disorder is an adjustment, certainly, but is not one that precludes an individual from having a robust, fulfilling, and rich life.