A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding The Types and Subtypes of Bipolar Disorder

Apr 25, 20247 min
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Bipolar disorder, once referred to as manic-depressive illness, is a mental health condition characterised by extreme shifts in mood, energy, and thinking. Unlike the everyday mood changes we all experience, these shifts can range from the exhilarating highs of mania to the despairing depths of depression, often impacting every aspect of a person's life. Understanding Bipolar Disorder can be overwhelming, both for individuals experiencing it and for those seeking to understand it. This comprehensive guide aims to explain the various types and subtypes of bipolar disorder, to give you insights into diagnosis and management. 

Understanding the Core of Bipolar Disorder: 

Before discussing the specific types, it's important to understand the basics. Bipolar disorder is defined by the occurrence of mood episodes – periods of very different emotional states that differ significantly from what's considered “normal” for a person. These episodes can be categorised into three main types, Mania, Hypomania and Depression.


Mania is an extreme and often debilitating state characterised by an elevation of mood, energy, and thinking. Let's dig deeper into what a manic episode looks like: 

1. Mood: 

● Euphoria: Individuals experience intense feelings of joy, excitement, and invincibility. They may feel like they can achieve anything, often experiencing inflated self-esteem not in sync with reality. 

● Irritability and Aggression: Some individuals experience mania primarily as intense irritability and aggression. This can manifest as verbal outbursts, hostility, and destructive behaviour.

2. Energy and Activity Level: 

● Unrelenting Energy: Restlessness and hyperactivity can become constants. Individuals may engage in frantic activity, jumping from one task to another with boundless energy. Sleep becomes a mere inconvenience, requiring as little as 3-4 hours per night to feel sufficiently rested. 

● Racing Thoughts and Flight of Ideas: Thoughts might move at a lightning pace, making it difficult to keep up. Ideas flow rapidly, often jumping from one topic to another with tenuous connections, leading to rambling while talking and difficulty focusing. 

3. Behaviour: 

● Impulsive Decisions: Judgement can take a backseat to impulsivity. Individuals might engage in risky and reckless behaviour, such as excessive spending, gambling, unsafe sexual habits, or substance abuse. This impulsivity can have severe consequences for themselves and others. 

● Increased Talkativeness and Grandiosity: Conversations can become rapid-fire, dominated by the individual's racing thoughts and grandiose ideas. They may boast about their abilities, talents, or imaginary achievements, exhibiting inflated self-esteem. 

● Distracted and Scattered: Concentration might plummet due to the rapid flow of thoughts and hyperactivity. Completing tasks can become challenging, as their attention gets drawn to new things constantly. 

4. Perception and Thinking: 

● Distorted Reality: Mania can blur the lines between reality and fantasy. Delusions i.e. false beliefs held with unwavering conviction, may emerge. These delusions can range from grandiose ideas of wealth or power to paranoid suspicions.

● Hallucinations: In some severe situations, individuals may experience hallucinations i.e seeing or hearing things that aren't there. These hallucinations can further distort their perception of the world and exacerbate their manic state. 

5. Social and Occupational Impact: 

● Strained Relationships: Mania can cause erratic and impulsive behaviour such as excessive spending or risky sexual behaviour, that can significantly strain relationships with family, friends, and colleagues. The inflated self-esteem can also lead to conflicts and social isolation. 

● Occupational Risks: Job performance may be affected due to difficulty concentrating, impulsivity, and erratic behaviour. Mania can compromise employment, leading to job loss or significant career problems. 

6. Physical Symptoms: 

● Weight Loss or Gain: Changes in appetite can lead to significant weight fluctuations. Some individuals may hyperfocus on food and experience weight gain, while others lose their appetite due to increased energy and forgetfulness about meals. 

● Increased Sex Drive: Sexual desire and activity can rise dramatically during mania, potentially putting individuals at risk for risky sexual behaviour like ignoring the usage of contraceptives when necessary. 


Hypomania is very similar to mania, except it’s milder and lasts for a shorter period of time. While still heightened, one doesn't experience euphoria or cause severe disruption. One might be productive, chatty, and maybe a little impulsive, but can still function in several aspects of like, unlike in mania where reality can warp and daily life crumbles.


While the highs of mania often dominate the narrative of bipolar disorder, the lows of depression are equally significant and deeply impactful. Depression in bipolar disorder is not simply a case of feeling down for a few days. It's a state that can engulf individuals like a thick fog, draining their energy, hope, and motivation. 

1. Mood: 

● Persistent Sadness and Hopelessness: A crushing weight of sadness can pervade daily life. Individuals might feel a profound sense of emptiness and despair, often losing interest in activities they once enjoyed. The world might loses its vibrancy, replaced by a never ending feeling of meaninglessness. 

● Anhedonia: Pleasure might become a distant memory. The things that once brought joy, laughter, or excitement no longer hold any appeal. This loss of interest can extend to hobbies, relationships, and even basic activities like eating or socialising. 

2. Energy and Activity Level: 

● Fatigue and Lack of Motivation: Energy levels plummet, and even simple tasks seem impossible. Individuals might feel sluggish, lacking the motivation to get out of bed or engage in any meaningful activity. 

● Decreased Sleep or Hypersomnia: Sleep patterns become disrupted. Some experience insomnia, tossing and turning all night, while others tend to fall into excessive sleep, seeking escape from the harsh realities of their depression. 

3. Thinking and Concentration: 

● Negative Thoughts and Self-Blame: Negative self-talk can become a constant companion. As a result, people might ruminate on past mistakes, failures, and perceived shortcomings, fueling intense feelings of guilt and worthlessness.

● Difficulty Concentrating and Making Decisions: The fog of depression can cloud mental abilities. Attention might become scattered, making it difficult to focus on tasks or retain information. Decisions, even minor ones, can feel daunting and overwhelming. 

● Suicidal Thoughts: In severe cases, the despair and hopelessness can lead to thoughts of death and suicide. This is a critical warning sign and requires immediate professional attention. 

5. Physical Symptoms: 

● Aches and Pains: Unexplained aches and pains tend to become common, despite the absence of any underlying medical condition. This is due to the connection between our physical and mental health. 

● Changes in Sex Drive: Sexual desire and activity can significantly decrease, reflecting the overall loss of interest and pleasure in life. 

● Neglect of Self-Care: Basic self-care routines, like maintaining hygiene or personal appearance, can stop mattering as depression takes hold. 

Types of Bipolar disorder 

Now that the different types of episodes are understood, let’s talk about the different types of Bipolar disorder. 

1. Bipolar I Disorder: 

● Key characteristic: At least one manic episode lasting for a minimum of a week, often accompanied by major depressive episodes. 

● Elation or irritability, inflated self-esteem, racing thoughts and speech, hyperactivity, decreased sleep need, impulsive behaviours, possible hospitalisation might be some of the experiences.

● Extreme sadness, hopelessness, fatigue, loss of interest or pleasure in activities, sleep disturbances, difficulties in functioning can be there.

2. Bipolar II Disorder: 

● Key Characteristic: Recurrent hypomanic episodes (4-6 days) alternating with major depressive episodes. 

● Hypomanic Episodes: Increased energy and talkativeness, heightened creativity and productivity, decreased sleep need, but no significant functional impairment. 

3. Cyclothymic Disorder: 

● Chronic Fluctuations: Ongoing, frequent swings between hypomania and mild depression, occurring daily, weekly, or monthly. 

● Impact: Less disruptive than Bipolar I or II, but can still negatively affect relationships and well-being. 

● Symptoms: Overlapping elements of hypomania and mild depression, but not full-blown episodes. 

5. Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder: 

● Frequency: Four or more mood episodes (mania, hypomania, or depression) within a single year. 

● Challenges: Rapid mood swings can be destabilising, requiring frequent treatment adjustments and support. 

● Impact: Increased risk of anxiety, substance abuse, and difficulty maintaining stability in relationships and employment. 

Type of Bipolar Disorder - Therapyclub


While the path of living with bipolar disorder can be challenging, significant strides have been made in treatment and management. Remember: 

● Professional support is important: Seeking help from qualified mental health professionals is essential for accurate diagnosis and treatment planning. 

● Treatment is individualised: No single approach works for everyone. Effective treatment plans often involve a combination of medication, therapy, and lifestyle modifications. 

● Education is empowering: Knowledge about bipolar disorder equips individuals to manage their symptoms and advocate for their well-being. 

Hope is always present. With proper support and resources, individuals with bipolar disorder can lead fulfilling and productive lives. Remember: If you or someone you know is struggling with bipolar disorder, please reach out for help. You are not alone. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): 

1. What are the main types of bipolar disorder? 

There are three main types: Bipolar I (severe mania with depression), Bipolar II (hypomania with depression), and Cyclothymic disorder (frequent mild ups and downs). 

2. What are the symptoms of mania? 

Euphoria, racing thoughts, hyperactivity, impulsivity, decreased sleep, grandiosity, possible delusions or hallucinations.

3. How is hypomania different from mania? 

Hypomania is milder than mania, with less severe symptoms and no significant functional impairment. 

4. What are the signs of depression in bipolar disorder? 

Sadness, hopelessness, fatigue, loss of interest, sleep disturbances, difficulty functioning. 

5. What causes bipolar disorder? 

The exact cause is unknown, but likely a combination of genetic and environmental factors. 

6. Is bipolar disorder curable? 

There is no cure, but effective treatment can manage symptoms and improve quality of life. 

7. What are the treatment options for bipolar disorder? 

Medication, therapy, lifestyle changes, and support groups. 

8. How can I support someone with bipolar disorder? 

Educate yourself, be patient and understanding, encourage professional help, offer practical support, and avoid stigma. 

10. Is there hope for living well with bipolar disorder? 

Absolutely! With proper support and treatment, individuals with bipolar disorder can lead fulfilling and productive lives.

11. When should someone seek professional help for suspected bipolar disorder? 

Seeking professional help is crucial if you are experiencing any rapid or significant changes in mood, energy levels, sleep patterns, or behaviour that interfere with daily life. Early diagnosis and treatment can significantly improve outcomes.

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Shama Shah
Therapy and Supervision