Spotlight on the Range of Behaviors In Bipolar Disorder
written by: Daniel P. McGoldrick
• edited by: Paul Arnold
• updated: 5/27/2011
Behaviors often exhibited by bipolar individuals can be drastically different due to the fact that this mental disorder causes uncontrollable mood swings that place the person at opposite ends of the emotional spectrum from severe depression to extreme mania, and everywhere in between.
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The Ravaging Ends of the Emotional Spectrum
Since bipolar disorder is marked by two major cycles that place a person on opposite ends of the emotional spectrum, that of depression and mania, we would do well to divide typical behaviors under those two categories. Due to the fact that there are different types of bipolar disorder, people that are bipolar may experience varying degrees of the symptoms and behaviors we are about to highlight. For instance, someone with Bipolar II might experience very deep and hopeless bouts of depression while cycling low and only feelings that a normal person might describe as feeling a tad bit better than average in the manic phase. Therefore, the popular belief that all bipolar individuals undergo periods of mania where they are up for days behaving exuberantly (like they were high on speed), with racing, jumbled thoughts that they can’t control, is not always the case. However, that bipolar behavior is certainly the case for others burdened with uncontrollable mania that is always followed by a terrible crash, so let’s begin there.
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Typical Behaviors in the Manic Phase of Bipolar Disorder
A person in the manic phase exhibits erratic behavior as if they were supercharged with boundless energy which often starts out as a euphoric experience and then becomes increasingly problematic and inappropriate to anyone witnessing them. They may feel as if they have firmly grasped the keys to the universe and decide to call a friend at 3 in the morning to discuss the intricacies, speaking a mile a minute. They will jump from one topic to another like a flying squirrel in a forest of ideas.
They can experience a boon in creativity and we can use the example of Vincent Van Gogh to point out just how magnificently creative bipolar people can be. Bipolar mania can also cause the person to become aggressive, irritable, and jumpy, sometimes resulting in fighting when someone is put off or disagrees with them. They also have very little need for sleep in the manic phase, often running on only a couple of hours here and there.
A lesser degree of extreme mania is known as hypomania. This occurs when the person feels productive, has increased energy, and feels good. They may do things they normally wouldn't do like call old friends or try something new due the atypical confidence hypomania can cause. In more extreme forms of mania, the person can be seen behaving as if they were invincible and engage in risky behavior like driving way too fast, going on lavish spending sprees when they don't have the finances to afford it, and make impulsive and untoward decisions regarding work, sex, and their personal relationships.
Grandiosity is also notable behavior. Typically, the manic phase causes poor judgment in all facets of their lives. Substance abuse is often turned to due to the person's desire to try and regulate their wayward, uncontrollable emotions in either bipolar cycle. Excessive drug use can lead to overdose and death. Any combination of these behaviors, when left untreated, can lead to suicide because the person truly feels that death is the only relief from the head they're terminally trapped in. When a person feels like life isn’t worth living, how can anything else really matter to them? That is why everything in our power is needed to get done in order to get these people professional help because there is always a way out no matter how overwhelming or exacerbating the situation becomes.
Depressive Phase Behaviors Seen In A Bipolar Individual
All or many of the signs and symptoms of major depression may be prevalent in the devastating depressive cycle of bipolar disorder. We already touched upon how hopeless, sad, and worthless a person can feel after the mania crashes. Suicidal ideation is often common because the person can't recognize any meaning in their lives or the world around them. Suicidal behaviors might include giving away processions (often cherished items), saying goodbye to family and friends in such a way that should raise a red flag, or engaging in extremely hazardous ventures.
In less severe forms, people will frequently miss school, work, or social outings. Sleep problems such as insomnia or sleeping too much will make their anxiety and irritability worse. Physical pain is often reported. The person will isolate and start to see their whole life, even the parts of their lives where they were happy and fulfilled, as black and of no value or consequence.
Even if they’re not in a cycle a bipolar individual can always feel like the bottom will drop out at any moment, leaving them anxious even when things are otherwise good. Bipolar individual may not to interact with anyone, avoiding everything in the stream of life altogether. Psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations or delusions may also appear in a person having a severe episode of either the manic or depressive cycle.
With all that said in regard to bipolar behavior, we can now see just how deadly and devastating it can be. No one would volunteer to have an afflicted mind like this anymore than they would wish to have another disorder or disease. Put yourself in their shoes and help them seek the treatment and medication they need just as you would want someone to help you if the roles were reversed. They can’t control these mood swings. Challenging the stigma of bipolar disorder is the first step in the right direction toward healing and coping with this mental affliction, so if you spot these behaviors in yourself or a loved one, get help immediately from trained professionals.