From True Activist
(Note: I took the opportunity to edit this article for my blog format so readers do not have to put up with a hundred advertisements and the annoying slideshow)
The ability of people to function productively and cope effectively with the rigors of daily life greatly depends on their state of health. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) constitution defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” While it is relatively easier to determine a person’s physical health, knowing the state of his psyche or his mind can be quite more challenging.
A person is said to be psychologically healthy when he or she is able to recognize his or her own worth and is able to interact properly behaviorally, and emotionally, allowing him or her to contribute positively to the community to which he or she belongs. But just like the body, the mind can also fall ill, causing a range of conditions or disorders that affect mood, thinking, and behavior, as in the case of Bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterized by extreme mood swings. People with this particular disorder have difficulty regulating their emotions and moods, making them experience manic episodes or “high” periods; or depressive bouts, or “lows,” sometimes even experiencing both at the same time.
Sadly, bipolar disorder is far from rare. In 2005, it was found that over 5 million people in the US, roughly around 2.6 percent of the population, suffer from some form of bipolar disorder, and those are just from the known cases. Because the condition is hard to diagnose, it is possible that there are more people out there living with it, which is why knowing what signs to look out for may help someone get the treatment they need.
For your guidance, we have gathered a list of symptoms that could help identify bipolar disorder. Items 1 through 13 are behavioral signs usually occur during a patient’s depressive (low) state; while items 14 through 25 happen during a person’s manic (high) period. However, these symptoms could also appear at any given time, which is why identifying mental disorders can be very challenging.
Here are 25 of the most common signs of bipolar disorder.
1. Suicidal Thoughts
The most serious sign that might indicate an underlying psychological disorder in an individual is when he or she has suicidal thoughts. Suicidal thoughts, or suicidal ideation, is when a person thinks about or creates a plan to killing his or herself.
Ideas of committing suicide may come due to tremendous stress, or, in cases of people with a mental illness such as bipolar disorder, depression; both of which make it difficult for affected individuals to cope. These thoughts of ending one’s life can be a detailed plan, or it can also be a passing consideration. Usually they are temporary and treatable, however, in advance cases, suicidal thoughts put patients at risk for going through with the plan, completing suicide.
If a friend, colleague, or loved one is struggling with suicidal thoughts, encourage them or bring them to a specialist to seek help. This is so that they may be given the proper care and protection they need while going through their difficult time.
2. Delusional, Disturbed, Hallucinatory, and Illogical Thoughts
People with bipolar disorder sometimes experience delusional, disturbed, hallucinatory, and illogical thoughts, all of which indicate some form of psychosis. Psychosis, defined simply, is the loss of touch with reality, during which a person’s thoughts become distorted, making it difficult for them to grasp what is really happening.
Sometimes, the psychosis experienced by bipolar individuals, line-up with their current mood. When this happens, the hallucinations or distorted thoughts are called mood-congruent symptoms. Other times, the opposite happens and a patient’s delusion doesn’t reflect the mood he or she is in, and are now referred to as mood-incongruent symptoms.
3. Feelings of Sadness and Hopelessness
When a person with bipolar disorder goes through a depressive state, he or she usually experiences bouts of extreme sadness and hopelessness. However, the sadness that people with bipolar disorder go through, is nothing like the regular emotion that we experience. This is because of an underlying impairment in the part of the brain responsible for regulating emotions.
Bipolar patients undergoing this difficult period might appear to be overly-dramatic about the rough spot they’re in. This is why it is important to understand that patients suffering from bipolar disorder have no control over their emotions, the same way that people with cancer have no control over how their body reacts to their disease.
4. Lack of Energy
Bipolar patients experiencing depressive states may have periods where they feel lethargic, lacking the energy to do important tasks, leaving them unfinished or worse, untouched. Lethargy, can be physical and mental, leading a person to feel unusually slow or sluggish. He or she may also experience feeling numb mentally, unable to process the goings-on around them.
Lethargy can come at any time to bipolar individuals who are otherwise active, busy, and productive. They can one day, during depressive states, find themselves unable to move, staying in bed most of the day, with dishes piling up in the sink and the house in total disarray. During these difficult times, the simplest tasks can seem like hard work for bipolar patients, often making them feel very tired and sluggish.
5. Difficulty Concentrating and Remembering Things
Cognitive deficits such as difficulty in concentrating, planning, and organizing things, as well as inability to retain otherwise easy-to-remember information, are common in bipolar individuals, especially when they are going through difficult periods such as depressive states.
People with bipolar disorder have complained of the dulling and slowing down of their mental processes, claiming to have felt a decline in their brain’s ability to function, making it difficult for them to finish tasks that they normally are able to do without a hitch.
6. Loss of Drive and Interest in Everyday Activities
Another common symptom of bipolar disorder is anhedonia, or the lack of pleasure in doing things that you normally like doing. For example, a patient who loves going to live basketball games and other sporting events, can suddenly lose interest in them, especially during depressive states.
It won’t matter even if he or she has season passes to every game, or if it’s the final game of the world championships, once the depression sets in, he or she will find it difficult to find interest in it and would prefer to be alone, at home, doing nothing.
7. Feeling of Guilt and Despair
Part of the many mood changes associated with bipolar depressive states is the extreme feeling of guilt. People with bipolar disorder may be flooded with thoughts that lead them to believe that something bad will happen if they don’t do as expected. This forces them to do things that they otherwise wouldn’t do. They find it difficult to say “no” to other people for fear of letting them down.
The sad thing is that this behavior leads into a never-ending cycle of guilt. For example, saying yes to every request can seriously take up the precious time that a person could be spending with family. Because of his or her decision to say yes to a project, that person now feels guilty for letting his family down. That feeling of guilt now snow-balls, leaving a huge dent on self-esteem.
8. Extreme Pessimism
Certain things have been found to people into thinking in the worse-case scenario, which isn’t really bad until it prevents them from doing the things that they need to do, eventually affecting their everyday life.
Emotional stress and certain kinds of mental conditions, such as bipolar disorder, have forced people to become extremely pessimistic, especially during depressive episodes. People with bipolar disorder tend to believe that their actions lead to untoward events, regardless of whether or not these events are connected. Because of these irrational thoughts, patients become more and more reclusive, feeding more into their depression in a vicious and destructive cycle.
When bipolar patients enter a depressive state, it is not unusual for them to experience low self-esteem despite the positive affirmations given to them by family, friends, and colleagues. These people have a general distrust of themselves and think that they are not good enough to meet the expectations of others.
Most of these thoughts are irrational and but mere figments of patients’ minds. Unfortunately, since they can’t be controlled, these ideas become powerful enough to make people with the disorder believe them, allowing those negative self-images to define who they are.
10. Sleeping Too Much
Excessive sleepiness has also been found to be a common problem in people with bipolar disorder. During depressive states, bipolar patients tend to lack the energy to perform normal tasks, preferring to lock themselves away from others and just sleep for long hours.
People with hypersomnia, such as those who have depression or bipolar disorder, have difficulty either staying awake during the day, or have extended nighttime sleep.
11. Waking Up Too Early
Experts believe that bipolar disorder affects a person’s body clock, scientifically referred to as circadian rhythm. This “clock” determines a person’s sleep and wake times, and is controlled by certain glands in the brain which respond to the changing light and dark as well as the shifting of seasons. Because of this, people with bipolar disorder tend to have problems regulating their sleep patterns, with some waking up way-earlier in the morning than they intend to.
12. Feeling of Emptiness and Worthlessness
Bipolar patients experiencing depressive states often describe a deep, unshakeable feeling of being empty inside. During difficult episodes, people with the disorder claim to have no feelings at all, comparing themselves to mere husks of who they are, devoid of emotion and empathy. They even say that the emptiness can be felt physically, like a thick and heavy cloak covering their bodies completely, and preventing them to feel and appreciate any form of physical contact with family or friends.
13. Loss of Appetite
When bipolar people enter a depressive state, everything that they normally do become tedious for them. They even lose interest in food, preferring to sleep long hours instead of eat. This appetite loss may be due to the extreme numbness that they feel, practically making them oblivious to their body’s need to be nourished as food becomes tasteless and boring to them. This becomes a dangerous cycle because patients with bipolar disorder are already low in energy during difficult times. Their loss of appetite makes them even weaker, making them more lethargic and driving them deeper into depression.
14. Risky Behaviour
Bipolar disorder presents with extreme mood swings. One day a patient can be normal, and then shift suddenly to either being low and depressed, or high and manic. During periods of mania, bipolar patients tend to engage in risky behavior due to an impairment in the area of the brain that is responsible for seeking-out rewards. MRI tests have shown increased brain activity in the nucleus accumbens, also known as the brain’s pleasure center.
Because of this, a patient gives in to his strong desires, making him become more erratic, engaging in activities such as binge drinking, unprotected sex, taking prohibited drugs, and gambling. He or she may also go on splurges, such as going on shopping sprees with no abandon, racking up huge debts in the process.
15. Impulsive Decisions
The risky behaviour that manic bipolar patients go hand-in-hand with another symptom of the disorder: impulsivity.
Impulsivity is defined as a tendency to have unplanned reactions to internal or external triggers without fear of the possible bad consequences these might bring about. Plainly stated, impulsivity is when a person does or says something without considering its effect on others as well as himself.
You and I have instances when we act impulsively, like when we grab that piece of candy from the grocery check-out even if we really don’t need it. For people with bipolar disorder, these impulses are much stronger, and acting on them immediately is the only option they have.
16. Decreased Need for Sleep
In contrast to the oversleeping episodes when they are experiencing a depressive state, people with bipolar disorder who are manic tend to have less need for sleep. Their increased energy, restlessness, and hyperactive minds prevent them from getting the rest that they need.
While it may be true that manic bipolar people tend to be more productive during this state, the dangers that lack of sleep bring far outweigh its benefits.
17. Talking Very Fast
Talking very fast, or pressured speech, is not unusual in people with bipolar disorder, especially during their hyperactive, manic states. It is one of the clearest and most observable symptoms in people affected with the disorder and is characterized by rapid and frantic speech, making it a challenge for people to understand what they are trying to say.
Words tend to be mixed-up and difficult to make sense of because of the incessant talking done by bipolar patients, which reflects their disorganized thoughts. Other characteristics of pressured speech include talking in a loud voice, blabbering about inappropriate subjects, and stuttering, as they are unable to speak quickly enough to keep up with what’s in their head.
Grandiosity, or the quality of pretentiously trying to appear impressive and intimidating, is another symptom experienced by patients with bipolar disorder, particularly during manic episodes. They create a fantasy where they see themselves as infinitely superior and better than everyone else around them. This exaggerated sense of importance, make them overconfident despite not having the evidence to back their claims.
19. Easy Distractibility
Maintaining focus is one of the challenges may patients with bipolar disorder face. Their ability to remain attentive can be severely compromised during manic or hyperactive episodes, making it difficult for them to function and be productive. Bipolar disorder patients are not oblivious to their being easily distracted and can be annoyed by it. However, since their thought processes are impaired, they are unable to control it, making them more frustrated as the cycle continues.
People with bipolar disorder often feel an inner restlessness that they cannot keep in check. For them, trying to calm down during manic episodes can be quite a challenge, feeling that every cell in their body wants to jump out and climb the walls.
The feeling of restlessness experienced by individuals with bipolar disorder can be compared to having too much caffeine, the difference is that caffeine highs easily dissipate with activity while bipolar restlessness remains constant, even if patients try to “burn it away.” This is one of the reasons why bipolar disorder patients engage in risky behavior, a futile attempt at trying to get rid of their restlessness.
21. Feeling Full of Energy
Bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme shifts between high energy (manic) states and low energy (depressive) states. When people are in the manic state, their energy levels peak, making them appear extra-motivated and enthusiastic.
At first glance, this may seem like a good thing, and it isn’t uncommon for bipolar patients to be at their most-productive and most-successful during manic episodes. However, as the energy level of the manic episode increases, the strong drive that they initially felt quickly turns into panic, making them feel more anxious and unable to function.
22. Extreme Happiness and Elation
The high energy level felt by people with bipolar disorder during manic states also make them feel extremely happy. They become easily excited by the rush that they experience during their high state.
However, bipolar patients are unable to regulate this feeling of elation, pushing them to seek bigger highs and making them engage in risky behavior. Because of this, the otherwise good feeling of extreme happiness becomes destructive, with some patients or the people around them ending up hurt, physically, emotionally, mentally and even financially.
23. Irritability and Agitation
The increased energy experienced by people with bipolar disorder during manic episodes also heighten their crankiness. They easily get irritated with the littlest of things as their brain starts to magnify these stimuli out of proportion. They may also find that people aren’t able to keep up with their fast pace, agitating them even more. The sad thing is that they know that they need to control themselves but are helpless in doing so. This makes them more frustrated, adding to the cycle even more.
24. Not Eating
The high energy experienced by people with bipolar disorder make them feel that they can function at a high level without the need for food. Their fast pace also prevents them from taking the time to get nourishment as their restlessness pushes them to keep on moving. This eventually takes a toll on their bodies, making them physically unable to sustain their energy. When this happens, they become sad, frustrated, and beaten, which can then trigger a depressive state.
25. Mental Overactivity
People with bipolar disorder often experience racing thoughts during their manic states. This is evidenced by the way they speak: rapid, rushed, and disorganized. Scans of patients’ brains have even recorded high levels of activity during manic periods, a stark contrast to the levels of those with normal brain function.