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What Does a Bipolar Episode Look Like?

There are many symptoms of bipolar disorder. The most distinguishing feature is its frequent mood swings. Bipolar disorder gets its name because people alternate between periods of mania (extremely elevated mood) and depression (excessive sadness). Usually, a person will have periods of normal moods in between these two extremes. 

To better understand what mania and depression look like, let’s break it all down for you:

How Does a Bipolar Manic Episode Actually Look?

Bipolar disorder is associated with many myths and misconceptions. The most common misconception is what a manic episode looks like in reality. The general consensus among much of the public is that it is simply an extremely good mood, or perhaps that it puts people into “party mode.” While it is understood that unstable behavior is common during manic episodes, most people think it’s generally more positive than the depressive side of bipolar disorder. However, this is not entirely true.

In the psychiatric community, bipolar manic episodes are defined as a sudden surge in energy, mood, or behavior that lasts for at least seven days. A person who experiences such an episode should not be treated as merely experiencing a mood change. These episodes can be risky and hazardous to the person’s health; they may require emergency treatment. During a manic episode, a person often loses the ability to rationally regulate their behavior, and their inhibitions are lowered to the point that they have little concern for danger.

Signs of a Manic Episode

During a manic episode, extreme energy surges can cause numerous symptoms—and not all of them are visible. Examples include:

  • Feeling jittery, wired, or buzzed
  • Excessive irritability
  • Feelings of euphoria
  • Sleeping very little or not requiring any sleep, even if you have been awake for days
  • Talking too fast and loudly, to the point that interruptions are difficult
  • Speaking and thinking in a frenzied manner
  • A lack of appetite and a large amount of energy despite eating little food
  • Having no inhibitions
  • Getting easily distracted
  • Grandiosity or an excessive sense of importance, power, or success
  • Taking risks such as binge-drinking, risky sexual behavior, spending a lot of money, or driving dangerously

The symptoms of manic episodes are often severe enough to require emergency treatment and hospitalization. They can be very unpredictable and can endanger an individual’s safety. A manic episode can cause people to make poor decisions, and they may binge drink or experiment with controlled substances. Making risky decisions due to mania can have serious, life-altering consequences. A person may get into legal trouble (like getting into a fight or driving drunk) or behave in a way that destroys their relationships or career. In addition, they may hurt themselves or others.

Depression

Occasionally, we all experience feelings of sadness; this is a normal part of life. It is an inevitable reaction to grief, loss, or painful events. However, these feelings will eventually go away with time. However, the severity of a depressive episode can be much greater for someone who has bipolar disorder. Feelings of depression often persist for a much longer time and can cause people to have a hard time tackling daily tasks and the problems of everyday life. When someone with bipolar disorder experiences a depressive episode, they are likely to experience the physical and mental symptoms listed below over several weeks to months. Not everyone who goes through depression matches all of these symptoms, but most people experience several of them:

  • Feelings of unhappiness that don’t seem to go away
  • Loss of interest in things that once brought you joy
  • A feeling of restlessness and agitation
  • Having difficulty making even simple decisions
  • Experiencing extreme fatigue
  • Not being able to enjoy everyday activities
  • Insecurity resulting in a loss of self-confidence
  • Having difficulty falling asleep at night
  • A decrease in appetite and weight

Getting Help

Many types of medical interventions can aid in managing these symptoms of bipolar disorder, such as the use of medications and various forms of therapy so that a person can live successfully with this disorder. Individuals should seek help as early as possible to ensure successful management.

Outpatient treatment options like LAT’s Intensive Outpatient Program significantly improve outcomes for people with bipolar disorder. We bring personalized, one-to-one support to you where you are to meet your unique healthcare needs. In addition, our hands-on group and individual Cognitive and Dialectical Behavior Therapy sessions help clients find ways to accept themselves, feel safe, and manage their emotions to help regulate potentially harmful or destructive behaviors.