Bipolar Disorder: Types, Causes And Symptoms

Illustration of woman with bipolar disorder. Image from

Millions of people live with bipolar disorder yet there are so many misconceptions surrounding it. This is a mental disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood and energy levels that can affect the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. It was formerly known as manic depression and is characterized by extreme mood swings. Therefore, people who suffer from bipolar disorder suffer from intense moods ranging from high highs (hypomania) and low lows (depression).

It’s often misunderstood since many assume that bipolar patients simply have anger issues or are “being moody”. However, this disorder is more complicated than the mood fluctuations it’s associated with. Bipolar patients experience episodes a countable number of times in the year or every day. They also don’t disassociate have multiple personalities (this is a whole different mental disorder). The fact is, people don’t behave in one particular way since there are different types of bipolar disorder. Depending on the type, patients may experience varying symptoms and characteristics.


    1. Bipolar I disorder: This type of disorder is characterized by at least one manic episode lasting more than a week. It is preceded or followed by hypomanic or major depressive episodes which can last for months if untreated. Patients may also suffer from psychosis during the episodes. This is considered one of the more severe cases of bipolar disorder due to the effects it has.
    2. Bipolar II disorder: For this type, it’s characterized by at least one major depressive episode and at least one hypomanic episode without a manic episode. Though this type of bipolar might not be as severe as the first, patients may experience long periods of depression and mania which affect their lives significantly.
    3. Cyclothymic disorder: This disorder is characterized by at least two years (one year in children and teenagers) of many periods of hypomania symptoms and periods of depressive symptoms. However, the symptoms are less severe than the other two types.
    4. Mixed bipolar state: This type is characterized by experiencing mania and depression at the same time. Patients may feel extreme sadness and happiness at once.
    5. Rapid cycling bipolar: This is characterized by 4 or more depressive, manic, mixed, or hypomanic episodes in 1 year.
Illustration of woman with bipolar disorder. Image from


Scientists have linked bipolar disorder to a number of factors though the cause is still unknown. They believe that these factors – physical, environmental, and social – may collide making someone likely to develop it. Here are some possible causes of the disorder.

  1. Genetics

Genetics may play a role in developing bipolar disorder. People who have a family history of suffering from this disorder are at a higher risk of developing it as well. However, scientists are still trying to find the gene that causes the illness. It’s more likely to occur in people who have a first relative such as a parent or sibling suffering from it. Additionally, if someone has bipolar disorder type I, they have a 5 to 10 per cent chance to pass it to their child.

  1. Chemical Imbalance

The brain’s functions are controlled by chemicals known as neurotransmitters. These chemicals are linked to our moods and the way we feel. Therefore, when there’s a chemical imbalance in the brain, it may lead to a bipolar episode. For instance, low dopamine levels can lead to episodes of depression while high levels of noradrenaline can lead to manic episodes. 10 Signs And Symptoms OF Hormonal Imbalance In Women

  1. Triggers

Triggers are external factors that lead to the occurrence of a bipolar episode. They may be both positive and negative. These triggers often cause extreme emotions leading to a manic or depressive episode in people prone to bipolar disorder. They include:

  • Alcohol or drug abuse – drugs normally alter our brain’s chemical balance leading to a fluctuation in mood.
  • Stressful workplace – stress is a common trigger for a bipolar episode. However, a job promotion can also trigger an episode.
  • Childbirth – many women suffer from postpartum depression which can also develop into bipolar disorder. Things You Should Know About Postpartum Depression
  • Relationships – Toxic relationships are not healthy for your mental wellbeing and can trigger a manic or depressive episode.
  • Medication – taking some medications such as antidepressants is well known to trigger symptoms of bipolar disorder.


People who suffer from bipolar disorder experience several symptoms linked with extreme mood swings.

Depressive symptoms include lack of energy, loss of interest, pessimism, guilt, hallucinations, self-doubt, lack of sleep, lack of appetite, and suicidal thoughts among others.

Manic symptoms include extreme happiness, full of energy, fast-talking, creative plans, irritability, delusion, self-distraction, lack of sleep, lack of appetite, and grandiose feelings among others.

Though there’s no cure, you can receive treatment for the illness. This will help manage the symptoms and make it easier to live with the illness. Treatments range from medication to therapy. You can also manage symptoms of bipolar disorder by staying fit and eating well. Regardless of the choice, treatment is necessary.

There are other mental illnesses apart from bi-polar. Here are 7 Common Types Of Depression

Do you know someone suffering from mental health issues who needs support? Here are 5 Kenyan Clinics That Specialize In Mental Health Issues

Here are Mental Health: How To Spot Depression In Loved Ones

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