When it comes to mental illness, there are plenty of stereotypes. But in reality, mood disorders can be hard to pinpoint—particularly in people with bipolar disorder symptoms.
Don’t believe what you see in movies. You can’t tell just by looking at someone that they might be bipolar. Take beautiful actress Lisa Nicole Carson, who shared her bipolar disorder with the world. Nobody knew before that!
Here are 10 signs that mood problems may be due to more than a quirky or difficult personality:
Greater Than Great Mood
Bipolar disorder is characterized by up-and-down episodes of mania and depression. During a manic phase, some patients can have a total break from reality. But hypomania, which is also a symptom of the disorder, is a high-energy state in which a person feels exuberant but hasn’t lost his or her grip on reality.
“Hypomania can be a pretty enjoyable state, really,” Dr. Bearden says. A person’s mood can be elevated, they may have a lot of energy and creativity, and they may experience euphoria. This is the “up” side of bipolar disorder that some people with the condition actually enjoy—while it lasts.
Inability To Complete Tasks
Having a house full of half-completed projects is a hallmark of bipolar disorder. People who can harness their energy when they are in a hypomanic phase can be really productive. Those who can’t often go from task to task, planning grand, unrealistic projects that are never finished before moving on to something else.
“They can be quite distractible and may start a million things and never finish them,” says Don Malone, MD, the director of the Center for Behavioral Health and chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Cleveland Clinic, in Ohio.
A person who is in a bipolar depressive state is going to look just like someone who has regular depression. “They have the same problems with energy, appetite, sleep, and focus as others who have ‘plain old depression,’” Dr. Malone says. Unfortunately, typical antidepressants alone don’t work well in patients who are bipolar. They can even make people cycle more frequently, worsening their condition, or send someone into a break-with-reality episode. “Antidepressants can be downright dangerous in people with bipolar because they can send them into mania,” he says.
Some people with this condition suffer from “mixed mania,” where they experience symptoms of mania and depression at the same time. During this state, they are often extremely irritable. Everyone has bad days, which is one reason this kind of bipolarity is much harder to recognize. “We are all irritable or moody sometimes,” Dr. Bearden says. “But in people with bipolar disorder, it often becomes so severe that it interferes with their relationships—especially if the person is saying, ‘I don’t know why I’m so irritable…I can’t control it.’”
Some people are naturally talkative; we all know a motormouth or Chatty Cathy. But “pressured speech” is one of the most common symptoms of bipolar disorder. This kind of speech occurs when someone is really not in a two-way conversation, Dr. Bearden says. The person will talk rapidly and if you try to speak, they will likely just talk over you. They will also sometimes jump around to different topics. “What’s kind of a red flag is when it is atypical for the person to talk like this,” doing it only when they are in a manic cycle but not at other times, she says.
Problems At Work
People with this disorder often have