Bipolar disorder is a mental health disorder characterized by periods of high, manic moods, followed by periods of low, depressive moods. This experience goes beyond feeling happy and sad to significant changes in behavior and emotional processing and affects approximately 2.3 million Americans.

If you’re concerned about your mental health or someone close to you, here are six signs of bipolar disorder to watch for. 

Significant Depressive Periods

As mentioned previously, those affected by bipolar disorder tend to have significant depressive periods. According to experts in Mental Health in Texas, people with bipolar disorder are often misdiagnosed as having depression. Part of the reason for this misdiagnosis is that the manic period can seem like excessive happiness to outsiders and difficult to identify within ourselves. As such, it gets overlooked during the diagnostic process.

Many people with bipolar disorder seek treatment during a depressive episode, especially if the depression feels dominant. It’s up to practitioners to ask questions and look for patterns to improve diagnostic accuracy.

Significant Mood Fluctuations

The thing that sets bipolar disorder apart from depression is the pattern of highs and lows. Those with bipolar disorder often experience a period of happiness and mania followed by a sharp decline into a depressive state.

If you notice a sharp contrast in moods rather than a steady state of depression, it’s a sign of potential bipolar disorder. 

Racing Thoughts and Restlessness

It’s important to understand that manic states aren’t always happy. We tend to think of high periods as feeling good, but this state often presents as extreme levels of energy and restlessness. Someone experiencing mania may speak fast, have racing thoughts, and struggle to sleep or sit still. This feeling often results in dietary changes, such as not needing to eat as much or “forgetting” to eat.

Again, these periods often get overlooked or written off as something else. You may think your friend is drinking too much coffee or just feel like you have a lot of energy. Again, looking for a pattern and shift in moods is important when assessing for bipolar.

Extreme Impulsivity

People with bipolar disorder can be incredibly impulsive. This trait tends to occur during an upswing, as those quick-moving thoughts and restlessness encourage action before thought. You may do something and realize afterward that you don’t know why you made that choice— yet at the time, it felt right.

In extreme cases, this level of impulsivity is dangerous and leads to risky behavior, like gambling, excessive shopping, or inappropriate sexual relationships.

Inability to Focus or Motivate

The inability to focus can occur during both a manic and depressive state. Typically, those in a depressive state lack motivation and feel foggy or down. Conversely, those in a manic state have too many racing thoughts and distractions to focus on the task at hand.

This aspect of bipolar disorder has a significant overlap with other issues, like ADHD. Again, looking for patterns and trends is a must, and this characteristic is just a piece of the puzzle.

Substance Dependence and Abuse

Unfortunately, those with bipolar disorder are more likely to develop a substance use disorder, such as alcoholism or drug dependency. This aspect of bipolar disorder can make it even more difficult to diagnose (practitioners may think the behavior changes are a result of substance use) and harder to overcome. Once someone has built a dependency on substances, that can become a separate issue to explore and treat. 

If you notice the signs of bipolar disorder in yourself or others, it’s important to seek medical assistance right away. Try to look for patterns and take notes about mood fluctuations, behaviors, and concerns. Bipolar isn’t curable, but it is treatable and manageable with proper care and attention.