Types of bipolar disorder

What are the different types of bipolar disorder? Find out the different experiences people can have when they have bipolar disorder, including information about mood episodes, how types of bipolar are diagnosed and what to do if you think you are showing symptoms.

Signs this might be a problem:

  • Your mood goes through extreme ups and downs
  • Your mood changes are interfering with your everyday life
  • Your family and/or friends are worried about your changing behaviour
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What are the different experiences of bipolar disorder?

Bipolar is a disorder where someone experiences serious mood changes to the point that it interferes with their everyday life. Everyone’s experience of bipolar symptoms is different. While all people with bipolar experience severe mood changes over weeks or months, how extreme the moods are, their patterns, and frequency is different for every person. As a result, several different types of bipolar disorder have been identified. 

If you think you may have bipolar disorder, working with a GP or mental health professional to monitor the different patterns and types of moods you experience is really important in working out what type of bipolar disorder you may have.

Bipolar symptoms and mood episodes

With bipolar disorder, every time you experience symptoms of a particular mood for an extended period, it gets called an episode. There are four main mood episodes - mania, hypomania, depression, and mixed mood. The different types of episodes you experience are used as a guide for figuring out what type of bipolar disorder you have.

Manic episodes (commonly talked about as experiencing a ‘high’) 

Your mood is constantly and extremely elevated for at least a week, meaning you experience more of everything. You might be:

  • Incredibly happy
  • Energetic
  • Fast thinking
  • Extremely irritable
  • Likely to blow up
  • Feeling or acting more sexual
You’re also more likely to:
  • Take risks
  • Feel invincible
  • Have unrealistic beliefs about your abilities
  • Need a lot less sleep
Hypomanic episodes (also talked about as experiencing a 'mini-high' or ‘semi-high’

You experience similar moods to manic episodes that last at least 4 days, but the experience isn’t quite as intense or extreme. You might:

  • Be a bit more energetic and less tired
  • Be in a good mood most of the time
  • Want to go out more and have more fun
  • Take things less seriously
  • Have more ideas or feel more creative
  • Get irritated more easily
  • Flirt more or feel more attracted to others
Major depressive episode (commonly talked about as experiencing a low)

You either lose interest in, or stop enjoying all activities or you’re in a depressed mood for at least two weeks. You might:

  • Feel exhausted 
  • Feel worthless 
  • Feel guilty
  • Feel sad and/or down
  • Be sleeping lots, or hardly sleeping at all
  • Have a changed appetite, or
  • Find it really difficult to concentrate
Mixed episode

For at least a week you experience some symptoms of both manic and major depressive symptoms nearly every day and these symptoms cause problems with school or work. A mixed episode might be:

  • Feeling down some of the day and quite good the rest
  • Having mood swings where mood changes rapidly
  • Feeling more sensitive to happy and sad things
  • Having a mood that seems unstable or easily influenced by events
  • Feeling uncertain what your mood will be in response to events

Types of Bipolar disorder

Bipolar I
To be diagnosed with Bipolar I, you need to have experienced bipolar symptoms which involve at least one manic or mixed episode, and sufferers have also often experienced at least one major depressive episode. Each depressive episode can last for several weeks or months, as can the mania episodes that you’ll experience in between.

Bipolar II
To be diagnosed with Bipolar II, you need to have experienced bipolar symptoms which involve at least one major depressive episode, along with at least one hypomanic episode, which is like a manic episode, but not as severe.

Cyclothymic Disorder
To be diagnosed with cyclothymic disorder, you need to experience bipolar symptoms but less severely. So the episodes you have won’t be as intense, won’t last as long, and don’t happen as regularly.

Bipolar disorder Not Elsewhere Defined
Sometimes people that experience the mood swings which indicate they have bipolar disorder, don’t have episode patterns which fit any of the three categories of Bipolar I, Bipolar II, or even cyclothymic. So, they get classified as having a ‘bipolar disorder otherwise not specified.’ Just like the other types of bipolar disorder, bipolar disorder not otherwise specified is a treatable disorder.

What to do about it

Bipolar disorder is a  condition that can be treated, but the exact treatment plan will be different depending on what type of bipolar disorder you have. The best thing to do is to consult your GP if you think you may have bipolar symptoms. Your doctor will be able to work with you to create a treatment plan that is specific to your individual experiences – which will make the management of bipolar disorder easier for you.

What can I do now?

  • Learn more about treatment for bipolar disorder.
  • Don’t change your medication without talking it through with your GP.
  • Write a timeline of your moods over the past few months and talk to family friends to see if they’ve noticed anything.
Last reviewed: 06 August, 2015
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