Bipolar disorder is a condition in which people experience intermittent abnormally elevated (manic or hypomanic) and, in many cases, abnormally depressed states for periods of time in a way that interferes with functioning. Not everyone's symptoms are the same, and there is no simple physiological test to confirm the disorder. Bipolar disorder can appear to be unipolar depression. Diagnosing bipolar disorder is often difficult, even for mental health professionals. What distinguishes bipolar disorder from unipolar depression is that the affected person experiences states of mania and depression. Often bipolar is inconsistent among patients because some people feel depressed more often than not and experience little mania whereas others experience predominantly manic symptoms. Additionally, the younger the age of onset—bipolar disorder starts in childhood or early adulthood in most patients—the more likely the first few episodes are to be depression Because a bipolar diagnosis requires a manic or hypomanic episode, many patients are initially diagnosed and treated as having major depression.
Signs and symptoms of the depressive phase of bipolar disorder include persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, guilt, anger, isolation, or hopelessness; disturbances in sleep and appetite; fatigue and loss of interest in usually enjoyable activities; problems concentrating; loneliness, self-loathing, apathy or indifference; depersonalization; loss of interest in sexual activity; shyness or social anxiety; irritability, chronic pain (with or without a known cause); lack of motivation; and morbid suicidal ideation. In severe cases, the individual may become psychotic, a condition also known as severe bipolar depression with psychotic features. These symptoms include delusions or, less commonly, hallucinations, usually unpleasant.[ A major depressive episode persists for at least two weeks, and may continue for over six months if left untreated.
Mania is the signature characteristic of bipolar disorder and, depending on its severity, is how the disorder is classified. Mania is generally characterized by a distinct period of an elevated mood, which can take the form of euphoria. People commonly experience an increase in energy and a decreased need for sleep, with many often getting as little as three or four hours of sleep per night, while others can go days without sleeping. A person may exhibit pressured speech, with thoughts experienced as racing. Attention span is low, and a person in a manic state may be easily distracted. Judgment may become impaired, and sufferers may go on spending sprees or engage in behavior that is quite abnormal for them. They may indulge in substance abuse, particularly alcohol or other depressants, cocaine or other stimulants, or sleeping pills. Their behavior may become aggressive, intolerant, or intrusive. People may feel out of control or unstoppable, or as if they have been "chosen" and are "on a special mission" or have other grandiose or delusional ideas. Sexual drive may increase. At more extreme phases of bipolar I, a person in a manic state can begin to experience psychosis, or a break with reality, where thinking is affected along with mood. Some people in a manic state experience severe anxiety and are very irritable (to the point of rage), while others are euphoric and grandiose.
To be diagnosed with mania according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a person must experience this state of elevated or irritable mood, as well as other symptoms, for at least one week, less if hospitalization is required.