What Does a Bipolar Person Act Like?

Have you believed the following myths about bipolar disorder (aka manic depression)?

  • A person with bipolar disorder is naturally uncooperative and rebellious.
  • This disorder triggers violent behavior.
  • Manic episodes are characterized by “crazy” behavior.
  • Most people with this disorder are “hyper” much of the time.
  • Having such a mental illness means a person can never handle real responsibility.

Behavioral Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

Rarely are the above accurate in real-life cases. The only truth in the stereotype is that this mental illness can be life-threatening to the person who has it. And about one person in 35 has it—maybe someone in your household.

If someone is acting in the following ways, especially for several weeks at a time, bipolar disorder is a possible cause.

  • Chronic restlessness
  • Talking at high speed
  • Working long hours without signs of fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating on one thing
  • Bursts of intense optimism, often turning to frustration without warning
  • Grandiose dreams pursued blindly (no clearly defined goals, but plenty of impulsive action)
  • Binging on alcohol or other drugs, especially in irregular patterns
  • Psychotic episodes
  • And: weeks or months of black moods after the above symptoms abate

The last point merits special attention. Despite the “bi” in “bipolar” and the popularity of “manic-depressive” in lay language, there’s a tendency to focus on the “manic” pole at the expense of the “depressive” side. And while the former may be more conspicuous, a typical person with untreated bipolar disorder lives a life of three parts “depression” to one part “mania.”

Health Issues Associated with Bipolar Disorder

Not that everyone conforms to that percentage or displays all the above symptoms. Besides individual-to-individual differences, there are multiple forms of the disorder:

  • Bipolar I, characterized by intense manic moods.
  • Bipolar II, where depression is more dominant and the other “pole” limited to “hypomania,” or lesser mania. (Some hypomanic episodes may not even be recognized as unusual, except by those familiar with an individual’s typical energy levels.)
  • Cyclothymic disorder, characterized by frequent mood swings and chronic depression or irritability.

While it’s easy to endanger oneself under the influence of a manic episode, the depressive aspect also brings the risks associated with “regular” depression: self-neglect, “self-medication” with dangerous drugs, and thoughts of suicide.

Perhaps due to neglected self-care and/or adrenaline overload, people with bipolar disorder are also at higher risk for numerous health problems, including:

  • Chronic anxiety
  • Diabetes
  • Eating disorders
  • Heart disease
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Migraine headaches
  • Morbid obesity

What to Do about Bipolar Disorder

Fortunately, bipolar disorder is treatable. If you suspect you have this condition, see a doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses. If someone else displays these symptoms, urge them to do the same.

People with bipolar disorder may experience denial, however. If you’re faced with a loved one (other than a minor under your custodial authority) who insists nothing is wrong:

  • Avoid enabling the problem by covering up for the other party’s actions or “loaning” them money.
  • Don’t nag or start arguments. Decide what you will do, and stick to it.
  • If your loved one experiences a major manic or psychotic episode, or a drug overdose, call 911 for emergency help. Request a responder specifically trained in dealing with mental health crises.
  • If things continue to get worse, consult a professional intervention specialist for recommendations on confronting the problem.

Finding Recovery

Once treatment does begin, the following steps help long-term recovery:

  • Don’t stop or change any medical prescription without consulting your doctor—even if you feel better or the medication doesn’t seem to be helping.
  • If you’re worried about bipolar disorder treatment inhibiting your creativity, discuss the concern with your doctor—but don’t use it as an excuse to avoid treatment.
  • Cultivate a support network, which should include an organized peer program plus your family, doctor(s) and therapist(s).
  • Watch out for stressors (such as sleep deprivation or over-stimulating environments) that could set off a manic episode.
  • Take good care of your physical health. And avoid alcohol and other drugs, especially if you have a “dual diagnosis” indicating co-occurring substance use disorder.
  • Above all, don’t lose hope. You or your loved one can recover from this disorder and live a healthy, effective life.

Transforming Lives for the Better

Bipolar and other mental disorders often co-occur with substance use disorder, aka drug addiction. If addiction is a problem in your family, there is hope for healing. Contact us at Cumberland Heights to learn how we can help you take back your life.

Recommended articles: