The Bipolar Disorders - Forms and Moods

More Than Just Manic Depression

Bipolar Disorder Forms
Getty Images - Stone - Nisian Hughes

The days are gone when the term "manic depression," which pretty much referred to people who experienced both mania and severe depression, was all there was to describe the illness now called bipolar disorder. Today, the characteristics of each form of bipolar disorder allow for more precise definitions and diagnoses, for the different forms are indeed different, both in the severity of some symptoms and in the way the illnesses affect people over time.

There are three major bipolar disorders along with some more specialized diagnoses. We'll begin with a look at each of them, and then go into more detail about the types of episodes.

The Forms of Bipolar Disorder

1. Bipolar I Disorder: Also known as Bipolar 1, the single defining characteristic of this illness is that the patient has had, or is having, a manic episode. In most cases, the patient also has major depressive episodes, mixed episodes and/or hypomanic episodes. For in-depth information, see:

2. Bipolar II Disorder (also known as Bipolar 2): Patients with this illness have both hypomanic and major depressive episodes. In Bipolar II Disorder, the tendency is to have more and longer depressive than hypomanic episodes, and over the patient's lifetime, to have more days ill than people with Bipolar I. For comprehensive information:

And for a close look at the differences between Bipolar 1 and 2:

3. Cyclothymia is less well-known than either of the other forms, but it is still an illness that can have a profound and serious effect on those who have it.

Patients with cyclothymia experience the same hypomanic episodes as people with Bipolar 2, but the depression they experience is not severe enough to constitute major depressive episodes. For detailed information, read:

There is also Bipolar Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (NOS). For information on this diagnosis, see:

The Moods of Bipolar Disorder

The three defining moods of the bipolar disorders are mania, hypomania, and depression. Periods of these moods are called manic episodes, hypomanic episodes, and, for Bipolar I and II, major depressive episodes. Mixed episodes are possible as well, where the patient experiences periods of both mania or hypomania and depression.

1. Mania is an extremely serious condition. In addition to a mood that is over the top or extremely irritable, someone having a manic episode may experience psychosis, need to be hospitalized, and/or have his or her life seriously disrupted by the symptoms. For a close look at mania, see:

2. Hypomania, while not as severe as mania, is nevertheless a mood that can cause serious problems.

For example, during a hypomanic episode, many of the same dangerous behaviors present in manic episodes, such as spending money recklessly or indulging in risky sexual behavior, may occur, having heavy consequences. In addition to the article "Symptoms of Mania and Hypomania" above, here is comprehensive information about hypomania:

3. Major Depression in bipolar disorder is no different from the depressive episodes of Major Depressive Disorder. Here are in-depth articles on depression, including a quiz that can help you identify your condition:

4. Mixed Episodes can be primarily manic or hypomanic, or primarily depressed, but in each case symptoms of the opposite mood are present. The current official description of mixed episodes in the DSM IV will likely be revised in the upcoming DSM V. These two articles give information about the present diagnostic criteria:

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