Signs of Bipolar Disorder Are Not Always Obvious

Forget what you may have heard about bipolar disorder. Mental illness symptoms are often very different from what you might believe them to be, and can be hard to spot. The signs of bipolar disorder especially can be elusive – many sufferers and their loved ones chalk their mental illness symptoms up to stress, fatigue or moodiness. Like other mental illnesses, bipolar disorder can vary in its severity from one sufferer to the next, and the signs of bipolar disorder can vary widely depending on how severe yours or your loved one’s illness is. Let’s take a look at some of the more subtle, hard-to-spot symptoms of bipolar disorder.


People with bipolar disorder cycle between states of depression and mania. A person in a manic state may have such a high level of energy as to appear frenzied, and that goes a lot further than simply being in a good mood. People experiencing the manic phase of bipolar disorder may be highly irritable, spend recklessly, and take other big risks like abusing alcohol and drugs or having sex with multiple partners. They often seem to not need sleep and may stay awake for days. It’s not uncommon for people in a manic state to lose their grip on reality. But while a manic state might be easy enough to recognize in someone else, there’s another form of elevated mood that comes along with bipolar disorder, and that’s hypomania. Hypomania is a less severe form of mania and it can be described as a state of exuberance, high energy and euphoria that may appear to be nothing more harmful than a very good mood.

Lack of Follow-Through

The inability to complete tasks is another one of the signs of bipolar disorder that’s hard to spot. If someone you love is always starting, but never finishing, projects or tasks, it could be because they have the high-energy that comes with a manic or hypomanic state, and thus lack the ability to harness that energy and use it to fully execute a plan before moving on to the next plan.


Sometimes people with bipolar disorder experience a condition known as “mixed mania,” in which they suffer simultaneously from symptoms of depression and mania. In this phase, the bipolar person can be very grumpy and irritable. Everyone has bad days, and grumpiness or irritability are not necessarily signs of bipolar disorder. However, if irritability is combined with other bipolar symptoms and is interfering with relationships, it could be. People suffering from this bipolar symptom may say that they don’t know why they feel so grumpy, but they feel powerless to control it.


Plenty of people are talkative, but how can you determine when talkativeness is a genuine symptom of bipolar disorder? A person exhibiting “pressured speech,” a common bipolar symptom, will talk rapidly and will continue talking over you if you try to participate in the conversation. They may also appear somewhat flighty in their speech, jumping around from topic to topic. Experts point out that chattiness is only considered one of the signs of bipolar disorder when it is normally out of character for the person.

Trouble Sleeping

Sleep-related problems, including excessive sleeping or insomnia, are common signs of bipolar disorder that can manifest at any time during the illness cycle. When depressed, a person suffering bipolar symptoms may sleep all the time and still feel fatigued. When experiencing a manic phase, however, that same person may sleep just a few hours a night – or not at all – and still have high
energy levels. People who are in treatment for bipolar disorder need to pay careful attention to maintaining an appropriate sleep schedule so as not to trigger a recurrence of symptoms.

Career Problems

People with bipolar symptoms often have trouble holding down a job or advancing very far in their careers because their symptoms interfere with their ability to function normally, be productive and get along with others. The emergence of unexplained problems at work, including showing up on time, getting their work done and getting along with coworkers, could be one of the signs of bipolar disorder. Bipolar symptoms don’t always look the way you expect them to. Many symptoms of this mental illness can be subtle. But with treatment, the symptoms of bipolar disorder can be managed and people with this mental illness can live normal, productive and happy lives.

Dr. Raul J. Rodriguez

Dr. Raul Rodriguez


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