Will Someone With Bipolar Know Right From Wrong? Understanding Bipolar Disorder And Its Impact On Morality

Reviewed by Aaron Horn, LMFT

Published 02/16/2022

Content warning: The following article discusses suicide. If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255, and is available 24/7.

The subject of this article is difficult to determine because the answer depends greatly on the mental state of the person with bipolar disorder. Most of the time, people with bipolar disorder have a sense of right and wrong that is equivalent to someone without the illness. However, people with bipolar disorder may have their worldview distorted during episodes of mania or depression. In the midst of these episodes, they may have impaired judgment and difficulty distinguishing right from wrong.

This article will discuss further information about bipolar disorder, pertinent discussions of morality, and hopefully fully answer this complicated question.

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterized by extreme shifts in an individual’s mood, energy levels, and ability to function in everyday life. Bipolar disorder is made up of difficult episodes of highs and lows. Medical professionals refer to the ups and downs as mania and depression, respectively. Additionally, mixed episodes exist, which is when someone with dipolar disorder experiences both manic and depressive symptoms during the same episode.

the impact of bd on morality

Bipolar disorder is also divided into subtypes, including Bipolar I, Bipolar II, and Cyclothymia. Bipolar I is characterized by mania, and Bipolar II has hypomania. Hypomania and mania involve similar symptoms, but mania is stronger and more severe. Cyclothymia has a milder form of episodes overall.

As will be mentioned later in this article, mania is most likely to involve symptoms of psychosis. All forms of bipolar disorder are treatable, but Bipolar I is the most likely to have features of psychosis.

Below are symptoms associated with bipolar episodes.

Mania symptoms include:

  • Elevated, expansive, or irritable mood.
  • Increased energy or agitation.
  • Decreased need for sleep. Energy levels stay similar or are raised despite the lack of sleep typical of mania.
  • Forced speech. This is the difficulty of stopping talking.
  • Uncontrollable, racing thoughts.
  • Unable to focus.
  • Symptoms last for at least a week, or hospitalization is required.

Symptoms of a depressive episode include:

  • Depressed mood. This can be defined as persistent feelings of sadness or emptiness.
  • Loss of interest and/or pleasure.
  • Unintended weight loss.
  • Sleep problems, including insomnia and hypersomnia.
  • Loss of energy.
  • Loss of concentration.
  • Suicidal thoughts.
  • Symptoms last for a period of two weeks.

Background Information On Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is made up of difficult episodes of highs and lows. Medical professionals refer to the ups and downs as mania and depression, respectively. Additionally, mixed episodes exist, which is diagnosed when bipolar patients have simultaneous manic and depressive episodes.

Bipolar disorder is also divided into subtypes, including Bipolar I, Bipolar II, and Cyclothymia. Bipolar I has mania, and Bipolar II has hypomania. Hypomania and mania are the same things, but mania is stronger and more severe. Cyclothymia has a milder form of episodes overall.

As will be mentioned later in this article, mania is most likely to have psychotic symptoms. Psychosis is one of the most dramatic ways in which people with bipolar disorder can lack the ability to see right and wrong. All forms of bipolar disorder are dangerous when untreated, but Bipolar I is the most likely to have psychotic features.

Below are symptoms associated with bipolar episodes.

Mania symptoms include:

  • Elevated, expansive, or irritable mood.
  • Increased energy, agitation.
  • Lessened need for sleep. Energy levels stay similar or are raised despite the lack of sleep in mania.
  • Forced speech. This is the difficulty of stopping talking.
  • Uncontrollable, racing thoughts.
  • Unable to focus.
  • Symptoms last for at least a week, or hospitalization is required.

Depression symptoms include:

  • If you think you may be experiencing symptoms of bipolar disorder or would like to know more, feel free to take a free diagnostic test at https://www.mind-diagnostics.org/bipolar_disorder-test. The results can help you to determine whether it might be beneficial to seek further support.Depressed mood. This can be defined as a general sadness.
  • This is a loss of interest and/or pleasure.
  • Weight loss. This does not include deliberate weight loss.
  • Sleep problems. This can include insomnia and hypersomnia.
  • Loss of energy.
  • Loss of concentration.
  • Suicidal thoughts.
  • Symptoms last for a period of two weeks.

Bipolar Disorder As A Spectrum

It is vital to recognize that bipolar disorder varies in severity within each person. This means that someone can have severe bipolar disorder, while another person has a milder version. While some people with bipolar disorder can experience psychosis, others with the illness may have an easier time staying rooted in reality.

Someone with dipolar disorder may function optimally when stable, but when very sick, that same person can experience a lack of control. The ways in which people with bipolar disorder could theoretically lose control is extremely varied.

For example, somebody experiencing the lower end of the impulsivity of mania may get into trouble by telling inappropriate jokes at a party. They may be annoying people or perhaps offending to some. Now, if that impulsivity becomes intense and out of control, that same person may threaten another person. The severity of bipolar disorder exists on a spectrum, and this spectrum can shift from individual to individual and situation to situation.

The same can be applied to the other symptoms of bipolar disorder. For example, you are technically experiencing insomnia if you toss and turn in bed for an hour. However, somebody experiencing extreme mania may be up for days at a time, which could lead to dangerously irrational behavior related to the negative psychological impacts of lack of sleep.

Right From Wrong & Morality

Just as anyone else, people with bipolar disorder have the potential to live full, rich, and rewarding lives. Yes, they can say the “wrong” thing or make a mistake, but when they are healthy, they fully understand right from wrong to the same extent that someone without bipolar disorder does. However, when people with bipolar disorder experience intense symptoms, they may have difficulty thinking clearly and determining right from wrong.

If you encounter someone with bipolar disorder who is struggling to distinguish right from wrong, it is essential to remember that this is not the result of moral failing or a character flaw. It is not their fault that they have an illness that can impair their judgment and thought patterns. However, it is crucial that they connect with professional help right away in order to access the support they need. A support network is also incredibly helpful, and can consist of family, friends, and others like BD support groups.

Bipolar Disorder And Suicide

First and foremost, if you have any suicidal thoughts, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The Lifeline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and is free as well as confidential.

Suicidal thoughts can emerge in mania, depression, and mixed episodes with bipolar disorder, and it can be a major risk of the disease. People with bipolar disorder are between 10 to 30 times more likely to die by suicide. However, treatments including medication and therapy can be powerful tools in preventing suicidal thoughts.

Psychosis And A Lack Of Control

Another way in which some people with bipolar disorder may lose the distinction between right and wrong is psychosis. Psychosis is generally defined as an inability to recognize what is real in the world, often as a result of hallucinations or delusions. Psychosis is most often found during a manic episode.

It is important to know that the person undergoing psychosis is experiencing great mental illness and distress and needs medical attention.

Comorbid Disorders

Bipolar disorder may be diagnosed alongside a variety of disorders. In addressing an individual with bipolar disorder’s ability to differentiate right from wrong, it is important to address this concern with a number of associated illnesses, as well.

For example, people with bipolar disorder often also have difficulties with food or substances in the form of an  . In these instances, the individual with mental illness may be aware of right and wrong, but they feel compelled to do what they know is wrong. In essence, they cannot help themselves from engaging in compulsive behaviors despite the harm it may cause.

Ethics, Decision Making, and Behaviors

It is crucial for the individual with bipolar disorder to seek help with managing their symptoms. Treatment for bipolar disorder typically includes psychotherapy, medication, and learning strategies (such as mindfulness exercises) for coping during manic or depressive episodes. There are many different treatment options out there, and help is always available in one form or the other.

Loved ones can be of great assistance to those living with bipolar disorder. One way to help is to understand that the person with bipolar disorder needs different tools to get the same needs fulfilled that we all have as humans (such as love and acceptance), and they are not a bad person. Oftentimes, the two are misconstrued, and the person’s behaviors are considered immoral instead of realized as being inconsistent with who the person is and requiring medical attention.

Conclusion

In short, people with bipolar disorder have the same moral compass that people without bipolar disorder have, but there are times when symptoms may be so severe that people with bipolar disorder have trouble distinguishing reality. They may make mistakes, but they generally understand right from wrong as well as anybody else. People with bipolar disorder who seek treatment and learn to manage their symptoms can live healthy lives.

However, if bipolar symptoms and episodes become severe enough, people with bipolar disorder may display a warped view of right and wrong. If you or someone you care for is experiencing these types of symptoms, please contact a medical professional. This article is not a substitute for professional medical care.

This potential for erratic behavior can cause a great deal of difficulty and stigma for the life of someone with bipolar disorder. It does not have to! With the right treatment and guidance, people with bipolar disorder can live long, healthy, and fulfilling lives with full cognition over right versus wrong.

One type of help that is available to those living with bipolar disorder is online therapy. BetterHelp is a platform with thousands of accredited therapists. They are available via video call, phone call, or instant messaging, often 24/7. This is of particular benefit to those with bipolar disorder, who may find it easier to receive help remotely rather than having to go to an office setting.