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What’s the Difference Between Bipolar 1 & 2

Man experiencing bipolar disorder gazing into river

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is characterized by sudden and severe shifts in mood that the person cannot control. Anyone who has been given a diagnosis of bipolar disorder has some form of mood shift on at least a somewhat regular basis.

But bipolar disorder is not a one-size-fits-all problem. In fact, the disorder can come with quite a few different variations. This article will explore one set of variations: those that differentiate bipolar I from bipolar II.

The National Institute of Mental Health suggests that 2.6 percent of the American adult population has bipolar disorder in any given year. These people may come from different backgrounds and different walks of life, but they all struggle to control their moods.

What is Bipolar I?

People who have bipolar I disorder shift between two different and distinct emotional states. One state is depression, and it is characterized by feelings of sadness, loss, and hopelessness. The other state is mania, and it is characterized by:

  • Rapid speech
  • Lack of need for sleep
  • Weight loss
  • Impulsive behaviors
  • Feelings of grandeur
  • Increased energy

The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance says that people with bipolar I will experience one or more manic episodes and one or more depressive episodes on a regular basis. Some people with bipolar I will also experience mixed episodes, in which they feel symptoms of both mania and depression at the same time.

What is Bipolar II?

People who have the bipolar II version of the disease also experience deep depression. During this time, they may:

  • Sleep more
  • Eat more
  • Cry for no reason
  • Express thoughts of suicide
  • Stop leaving the house
  • Find it hard to concentrate

But these people may not experience the boomerang high of mania seen in bipolar I. These people may not feel terribly altered and pulsing with energy. Instead, they have a muted form of mania in which they feel slightly too energetic and slightly too irritable. The people around them may notice a change, and it may not be spurred by any factor the person could name, but it is happening.

Getting Help for Bipolar

Therapist taking notes on a patient with bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder, whether it is type I or type II, can be treated. The condition cannot be cured, but it can be kept under control with medications, therapy, or both. Typically, treatment begins with an in-depth interview, in which the person has the opportunity to discuss all the symptoms and feelings that might be attributed to bipolar disorder. Then, the person and the therapist come up with a treatment program that can help.

If medications are used in the treatment program, they can take time to work. Some people need to switch medications in order to find the right solution. It is vital for people to stay in touch with the treatment provider during medication therapy, so the solutions can be tweaked and altered as needed.

Therapy can also be experimental. Some people benefit from one type of therapy, while others need a different form of care. And some people need counseling sessions more frequently than others do. It is reasonable for a person and a therapist to work together and adjust, as needed, until the right program is found.

The National Institute of Mental Health says that bipolar disorder treatments work best when they are applied consistently, rather than in fits and starts. That means people who have bipolar disorder need to stay in treatment, even if they do not think they need the help anymore. Those who do that can gain control, and that can drastically improve quality of life.


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