7 Signs of Mania and Bipolar Disorder

Everyone has ups and downs. But imagine the normal ups and downs stretched into a roller coaster of highs and lows: life at the extremes.  Savvy Psychologist shares 7 signs of mania, the signature of bipolar disorder.

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
5-minute read
Episode #44


Today's episode is a response to an email I received from listener Robin from Iowa. She asked about bipolar disorder.

“Bipolar” is a term that gets thrown around a lot these days, often in a demeaning way as shorthand for “indecisive” or “inconsistent.”   

But true bipolar disorder - which used to be called manic depression - is quite distinct.  

Individuals living with bipolar disorder often feel well and function just fine.  But during an episode, their mood and behavior swings to the manic or the depressive end of the spectrum, each of which is drastically different than their usual self.  

During an episode, people living with bipolar disorder are most often depressed, but some time may be spent in a manic state.  And it’s this presence of mania that sets bipolar disorder apart from plain old depression.


7 Signs of Bipolar Disorder

How to recognize mania?  Look for these 7 signs:

Sign #1:  Euphoria.  We’ve all felt giddy at one time or another  -an extra spring in your step or just high on life.  Now amplify that, not just with a microphone, but through a stadium concert sound system.  You are literally shouting from the rooftops.

Sign #2:  Grandiosity.  Nothing is impossible for you.  No one is better qualified. You’re a genius.  You’re convinced your 3am scribblings will go down in history as on par with Shakespeare.  You have the confidence of Kanye on steroids.

Sign #3:  Impulsive decisions and bad judgment.  You find yourself doing risky, impulsive things, like buying a whole new wardrobe in one shopping trip, sinking all your money into a business scheme, trying to sleep with the local hockey team, or thinking it would be a good idea to jump from balcony to balcony in your apartment complex like Spiderman.  For example, one of my former patients, while manic, was driving home from the store and decided on a whim to keep on driving and move to Wyoming; on another occasion he was so taken by a woman he met on a long flight, that he proposed to her before the plane landed.

Sign #4:  Feeling rested after little or no sleep.  You stay up all night to work on a project or roam around town.

Sign #5:  Racing thoughts and non-stop talking.  You jump from subject to loosely associated subject, punctuated with plays on words, laughter, or singing.

Sign #6:  Irritability.  Mania isn’t necessarily happy; it can be irritable and explosive as well.  Extreme irritability may turn into aggression, but it’s important to remember this doesn’t necessarily mean danger to others.  In fact, a 2001 study in the prestigious journal The Lancet found that folks with mental illness are far more likely to be the victims of homicide or fatal accidents than the perpetrators.  Remember, when manic, folks think they’re invincible and have bad judgment - not the greatest combination for staying safe.

Sign #7:  Mania gets in the way of life.  Unsurprisingly, all these signs in combination interfere with life, whether that includes getting to class, focusing on work, or taking care of kids.  Mania is officially diagnosed if it lasts longer than 7 days or you land in the hospital, whichever comes first.

So put it all together and what does mania look like?  Consider these two mash-ups of various patients.  We’ll call them “Eli” and “Angela”.....


Medical Disclaimer
All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen is a clinical psychologist at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD). She earned her Ph.D. at UCLA and completed her training at Harvard Medical School. Her scientifically-based, zero-judgment approach is regularly featured in Psychology Today, Scientific American, The Huffington Post, and many other media outlets. 

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