Bipolar Depression Early Warning Signs

Knowing the early warning signs of bipolar depression can help you stay on top of your mental health. When you are aware of what to watch for, you can take measures to treat it before it becomes overpowering. Bipolar depression early warning signs indicate that you may be swinging down into the depressive side of bipolar disorder, a side of the illness that is very common.

Bipolar I disorder involves mood swings between mania and depression. While there are individual differences, time spent in depression surpasses time spent in mania by approximately three to one (WebMD Medical Reference, 2016). In bipolar II disorder, an illness marked by depression and hypomania (a milder but still disruptive form of mania), depressive states outnumber hypomanic episodes by a whopping 35 to one (WebMD Medical Reference, 2016). Knowing the warning signs of bipolar depression can be helpful in keeping this life-limiting condition at bay.

Types of Bipolar Depression Signs

Depression associated with bipolar disorder has numerous signs and symptoms, and trying to memorize the heap of them can feel impossible—especially if depression has already begun to descend upon you. Breaking them up and grouping them into categories can help you assess the different aspects of yourself and your life that might be negatively impacted by bipolar depression.

Warning signs of bipolar depression fall into four general categories:

  • Emotional
  • Cognitive (your thoughts)
  • Physical
  • Behavioral

Depression affects the whole person, both what they think and feel inside and what others see on the outside. This means that you and the people in your life whom you trust can pay attention to the following inner and outer signs to catch bipolar depression early.

Emotional Signs of Bipolar Depression

These relate to how you feel, your subjective response to your inner self and the world around you. Early warning signs that you may be developing bipolar depression include:

  • Feeling down, beyond having a bad day, for at least two weeks
  • Irritability, impatience
  • Apathy, lack of interest in people, things, and life in general
  • Strong feelings of guilt
  • Sense of hopelessness
  • Inability to feel pleasure or joy

Cognitive Signs of Bipolar Depression

Depression affects the way you think and what you think about. Watch for signs like:

  • Problems with concentration and focus
  • Difficulty paying attention, even to things you like (books, movies, people)
  • Thoughts of death, suicide
  • Short-term memory problems
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Slowing of thoughts, often noticeable as slow speech, difficulty finding words

Early Warning Signs of Bipolar Depression: Physical Signs

People with bipolar depression feel it in their bodies. Signs of this include:

  • Low energy, overwhelming fatigue
  • Appetite changes, either wanting to eat too much or too little
  • Noticeable weight gain or weight loss
  • Sleep problems, either sleeping way too much or difficulty staying asleep despite fatigue
  • Aches and pains without a medical cause
  • Slowed movements
  • Agitation, restlessness

Bipolar Depression Signs: Behaviors

Bipolar depression can seem to take over how people act and behave. It can seem as though you’re just a puppet controlled by some unknown entity (but your strings are tangled and jumbled so you can’t do much at all). Watch for these warning signs:

  • Withdrawing from activities you like (or used to like)
  • Isolation from friends and family, wanting to be left alone
  • Sullen demeanor and behavior
  • Frequent crying for no apparent reason
  • Self-harm
  • Remaining in bed or on the couch for much of the day

These signs, whether you experience a few or many, represent changes in the way you live your life. If you notice a closing in, a downward spiral, you may be entering bipolar depression. You can use the early warning signs of bipolar depression to have a conversation with your doctor or therapist and treat it early before it engulfs you.

article references

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2021, December 28). Bipolar Depression Early Warning Signs, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 15 from

Last Updated: January 7, 2022

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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