Bipolar disorder is a serious and complex disorder with a wide range of symptoms. There are different types of this disorder and its symptoms can also occur together with other psychopathologies such as schizophrenia.

In today’s article, we will review the different types of bipolar disorder and their characteristics, as the diagnosis of this mental illness can be complicated for mental health professionals.

An overdiagnosed disorder

Some experts have long warned that bipolar disorder is being overdiagnosed. That is why Brown University Medical School in Rhode Island decided to study this phenomenon, that of overdiagnosis . Their conclusions were clear: about 50% of the diagnosed cases of Bipolar Disorder could be wrong .


The research was carried out with the analysis of data from interviews with 800 psychiatric patients using a comprehensive diagnostic test . But what are the causes of this overdiagnosis? Researchers think that there is a greater propensity for specialists to diagnose bipolar disorder than other more stigmatising disorders for which there is no clear treatment.

On the other hand, there is another hypothesis that states that the fault lies with aggressive advertising by pharmaceutical companies, as they have a great interest in marketing the drugs used in the treatment of this pathology. This is also the case with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

  • You can learn more about this study in our article: “Researchers point to overdiagnosis of Bipolar Disorder”

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

The primary symptoms of bipolar disorder are the unpredictable changes in mood , and the most characteristic are the symptoms of mania and depression.

Symptoms of Mania Phase

Symptoms of mania include excessive arousal, perception of grandeur, irritability, lack of sleep, marked increase in energy, high sex drive and verbiage . During the mania phase, individuals may abuse drugs, engage in risky behaviors, and make decisions that are harmful and negative to them, such as quitting work.

Symptoms of the depressive phase

Symptoms of the depressive phase include sadness, anxiety, irritability, loss of energy, uncontrollable crying, changes in appetite leading to weight loss or gain, excessive need for sleep, difficulty making decisions, and suicidal thoughts.

In addition, manic and depressive symptoms may appear together. When this occurs it is called a “mixed episode.

Types of Bipolar Disorder

There are different types of bipolar disorder characterized by different degrees of depressive or manic symptoms. The five types of bipolar disorder are: cyclothymia, bipolar type I disorder, bipolar type II disorder, bipolar unspecified disorder, and bipolar rapid cycling disorder.


cyclotimia is a variant of bipolar disorder but its symptoms are less severe , meaning that people with this disorder have mild phases of depression and hypomania. Individuals are diagnosed after symptoms have persisted for at least two years.

  • Learn more about cyclothymia in our post: “Cyclothymia: the mild version of Bipolar Disorder”

Bipolar Disorder Type I

A person affected by bipolar disorder type I has had at least one episode of mania during his/her life , as this type of bipolar disorder is characterised by the presence of manic or, in some cases, mixed episodes, and the subject has not necessarily suffered a depressive phase. However, approximately 90% of the cases the patient goes through both phases (mania and depression).

Bipolar Disorder Type II

Bipolar disorder type II is diagnosed when the subject has suffered one or more episodes of major depression and at least one episode of hypomania . Sometimes, bipolar disorder type II can be confused with major depression, so it is essential to make a correct diagnosis for a better recovery of the patient.

Bipolar disorder not otherwise specified

Bipolar disorder may not be classified among the three above (cyclotimia, type I, and type II) for different reasons. For example, when episodes of hypomania are recurrent. There are situations in which the psychologist or psychiatrist has concluded that there is a bipolar disorder, but is unable to determine whether it is primary, due to a medical illness or because it was induced by a substance.

The most common subtypes of bipolar disorder are as follows:

  • Very rapid alternation (in days) between manic and depressive symptoms that do not meet the criterion of minimum duration for a manic episode or a major depressive episode.
  • Recurrent hypomanic episodes without intercurrent depressive symptoms.
  • A manic or mixed episode superimposed on a delusional disorder , a residual schizophrenia or an unspecified psychotic disorder.

Rapid-cycling bipolar disorder

Individuals with rapid-cycling bipolar disorder experience four or more episodes of mania or depression within a year. About 10% to 20% of patients with this disorder suffer from the “rapid cycling” type .

Misconceptions about Bipolar Disorder

Despite the fact that bipolar disorder is quite well known to the population, at least as far as the name is concerned, there is a great deal of misinformation about this psychopathology . Many people think that this disorder is characterized by sudden mood swings on the same day or by emotional ups and downs.

In reality, bipolar disorder is a serious disorder that, like schizophrenia or paranoid disorder, requires the administration of drugs and monitoring of patients’ lifestyle to prevent relapses. Therefore, if you want to know more about bipolar disorder and be well informed, we invite you to read our article:

  • “Bipolar disorder: 10 characteristics and curiosities you didn’t know”

Bibliographic references:

  • Connolly, Kevin R.; Thase, Michael E. (2011). “The Clinical Management of Bipolar Disorder: A Review of Evidence-Based Guidelines. Prim Care Companion CNS Disord.
  • Moreno C, Laje G, Blanco C, Jiang H, Schmidt AB, Olfson M. (September 2007) “National trends in the outpatient diagnosis and treatment of bipolar disorder in youth,” Archives of General Psychiatry.
  • Weissenrieder, Annette (2003). Images of illness in the Gospel of Luke: insights of ancient medical texts. Mohr Siebeck.