Types of Bipolar Disorder Explained

Florida Psychiatrists

Bipolar disorder is a lifelong mental illness that is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Other factors, like genetics and the environment, can also influence it. There are several different types of bipolar disorder out there but all involve a degree of depression and mania. To help you better understand the different types of bipolar disorder we’ve explained them all.


Bipolar I Disorder

The biggest challenge psychiatrists have is telling the different between bipolar disorder I and bipolar disorder II. Bipolar I is characterized by one or more episodes of mania. This mania is typically followed by periods of depression too. Sometimes a person with bipolar I disorder will have a mixed episode in which they experience symptoms of both mania and depression.

The biggest marker of bipolar I are the extreme manic episodes. Mania is characterized by elevated moods, inflated self-esteem, racing thoughts, and a difficulty keeping thoughts or activities straight.

Bipolar II Disorder

Bipolar II Disorder is characterized by one or more major depressive episodes and at least one episode of hypomania, which is an elevated mood but not as extreme as mania. With bipolar II it’s possible to have periods of level moods between episodes. This is what makes bipolar II hard to diagnose- it often gets confused with major depressive disorder since the episodes of hypomania can go unrecognized or unreported.

If you have depressive episodes or have been diagnosed with major depression but don’t feel like your meds are working, ask yourself if you have the symptoms of hypomania. Hypomania is characterized by being abnormally energetic, irritable, self-confident, hyper, talkative or with racing thoughts.

Not Otherwise Specified (NOS)

Bipolar disorder that doesn’t follow a typical pattern is called bipolar disorder NOS. This is when someone has re-occurring hypomanic episodes without depression. Or someone could have rapid swings between mania and depression. NOS is essentially when someone has the characteristic mania and depression of bipolar but without the particular patterns that mark it as bipolar I or bipolar II.


Cyclothymia is a milder form of bipolar disorder. This is characterized by multiple hypomanic episodes with less severe episodes of depression that alternate. This goes on for at least two years. The severity of cyclothymia can change over time.

Rapid Cycling

If someone has rapid cycling bipolar disorder it means they experience four or more manic, hypomanic, or depressive episodes in a 12 months period. Rapid cycling isn’t a specific type of bipolar as it can occur with any type. For some people, this is a temporary condition of their bipolar type while for others it is long term.

Bipolar Episodes vs. Normal Mood Swings

No doubt you’ve heard people casually call someone “bipolar” as they’ve gone from being happy to mad. Many people don’t know the difference between normal mood swings and bipolar disorder. There are three main factors that determine if someone’s shifting mood is normal or not.

The first thing is to look at the intensity of the mood swing. With bipolar disorder moods, swings are severe. They might also appear irrational. A normal mood swing would be being happy and then getting mad. With bipolar disorder, someone will go from ecstatic and hyper to raging angry. The length of the mood swing is also important. A bad mood will normally be gone in a few days but with bipolar disorder, the highs and lows last for weeks or months.

The last things to consider is how mood swings interfere with life. Florida psychiatrists say that bipolar disorder mood swings can severely disrupt one’s life. Depressive episodes can cause people to stay in bed and miss work while manic episodes will cause people to not be able to sleep or think.

If you or someone you know is struggling with bipolar disorder or is having trouble determining if they have bipolar disorder, contact one of Florida’s top psychiatrists. Bipolar disorder cannot be cured but it can be treated and managed.


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