Identifying the warning signs – Bipolar Disorder

Individuals with bipolar mood disorder often have cycles of elevate and depressed mood that fit the description of “manic depression.” When a person’s illness follows this pattern, a diagnosis of bipolar disorder is usually relatively easy.

For example, an individual’s mood can range from feelings of elation, euphoria and high energy to depression and suicidal thoughts. There can also be disruption in sleep and thinking patterns and other behavior symptoms.

The extremes of mood are known as manic episodes and depressive episodes. Hypomania has symptoms of a manic episode that are less severe.

The signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder are varied. Many of these symptoms can also be caused by other conditions, making this condition sometimes hard to specifically diagnose.

The warning signs can generally be divided into those of mania, and those of depression.


Mania can cause other symptoms as well, but the key signs of this phase of bipolar disorder include:

  • Feeling overly happy or “high” for long periods of time
  • Talking very fast, often with racing thoughts
  • Having overconfidence in your abilities (feeling invincible)
  • Having a decrease need of sleep
  • Feeling impulsive
  • Feeling extremely restless
  • Engaging in risky behavior (impulsive sex, big spending sprees, gambling life savings, pushing the boundaries of speed limits, etc.)


Like mania, depression can cause other symptoms as well, but the key signs of depression include:

  • Feeling sad or hopeless for long periods of time
  • Having a significant change in appetite
  • Withdrawal from friends or family
  • Feeling fatigue or a lack of energy
  • Losing interest in activities you once’s enjoyed
  • Having problems with memory
  • Having a problem with concentration and decision making
  • Thinking about or attempting suicide, or having a preoccupation/obsession with death


There are 4 common types of bipolar disorder, but 2 of these are most commonly diagnosed.


Previously called “manic depression”; in bipolar 1, manic phases are clear. An individual’s behavior and moods are extreme, and their behavior quickly escalated until they are out of control. The individual may end up in an emergency room if left untreated.

A bipolar disorder 1 patient, must have manic episodes such as:

  • Include moods or behaviors that are unlike the individual’s usual behavior
  • Be present most of the day, nearly every day during the episode
  • Last at least one week, of be so extreme that the person needs immediate hospital care

Individuals with bipolar 1 typically have depressive episodes as well, but a depressive episode is not required to make a bipolar 1 diagnosis.


Considered more common that bipolar 1 disorder, it also involves depressive symptoms, but the manic symptoms are less severe, and are called hypomanic symptoms. Hypomania left untreated becomes worse and the individual becomes severely manic or depressed.

Bipolar 2 is harder for individuals to see within themselves, and it often is up to family and friends to encourage the individual to get help.

Another form of bipolar disorder is called Cyclothymic disorder. An individual with this disorder will also have alternating periods of hypomania and depression for at least two years. The main difference between cyclothymic disorder and bipolar 2 is that the symptoms of an individual with cyclothymic tend to be less severe and do not meet the criteria for hypomania and depression.

Alternatively an individual may have bipolar disorder that does not fit within the above patterns. They may receive a diagnosis of either “other specified bipolar disorder” or “unspecified bipolar disorder” depending on their symptoms.


Medical physicians do not know exactly what causes bipolar disorder, but they believe the following factors appear to play a role:

Genetic factors -an individual with bipolar disorder may have a parent with the condition, however having a parent or a sibling with bipolar disorder does not mean an individual will have it.

Stress – an individual who has a genetic predisposition may experience their first episode of depression or mania during or after a time of severe stress, for example, the loss of a job or a loved one.

Risk-taking and thinking about suicide can pose a major danger for an individual with bipolar disorder. Whenever there is a possibility of harm or suicide, it is important to address the concerns quickly and directly. If there is an imminent risk, someone should contact your local police or suicide crisis hotline immediately.

There are no blood tests or imaging that can diagnose the condition, but doctors may suggest tests to rule out other medical conditions with similar symptoms. If no medical conditions or medicines are causing the symptoms, the medical practitioner will consider bipolar disorder and may refer the individuality a mental health specialist. The best person to diagnose bipolar disorder is a psychiatrist.

Treatment includes a variety of medications and talk therapy or psychotherapy; and because bipolar is a lifelong disease, treatment should also be lifelong.

If you feel you or someone you know is showing these symptoms, please advise them to see a doctor or psychologist as soon as possible – and don’t take NO for an answer because you could be saving their life.


SADAG (South African Depression and Anxiety Group) has a mental health line and can be contacted on 011 234 4837. SADAG has also compiled an online questionnaire that you can download and print and complete, to help you identify if you possibly have a mood disorder.

To download the form, please click on the below link:


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