What Triggers Bipolar Depression?

Understanding bipolar depression triggers is crucial if you or someone you love has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Find out more on HealthyPlace.

Bipolar depression triggers vary from person to person, but there are some common factors to consider. Depending on their diagnoses, many people with bipolar type I or II find their depressive episodes to be the most detrimental to daily life, so they tend to avoid anything that could trigger a depressive episode. Sometimes, there is seemingly no cause for a depressive episode in bipolar disorder other than chemical or hormonal changes in the brain. However, certain factors may increase the likelihood of a "down" period, so here are some common bipolar depression triggers to consider.

Common Bipolar Depression Triggers

Bipolar depression triggers are external environmental and psychological factors that set off episodes of periods of bipolar depression or make existing symptoms worse. The most common bipolar depression triggers include:

  • Poor quality sleep

    Changes to sleep patterns is a hallmark symptom of bipolar disorder, but it can also be a trigger. Studies show that poor sleep can trigger bipolar depression, while a lack of sleep can trigger mania. This trigger is most common in women with bipolar disorder, especially those who are caring for new-born babies. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal and social rhythms therapy (IPSRT) can help you develop an orderly sleep schedule and manage your symptoms more effectively.
  • Conflict with loved ones and relationship breakups

    Stress that occurs from conflict is a major trigger for bipolar depression. Sadly, marital problems are also common in people with bipolar disorder – especially those who experience extreme manic episodes. Seeing a marriage counselor could help you manage conflict more effectively, while treatment for manic and depressive episodes can keep symptoms in check. If you're going through a divorce, make sure you have an experienced legal representative who understands your condition.
  • Substance abuse

    The aftereffects of alcohol and drug abuse can trigger depression-like symptoms in otherwise healthy individuals. In people with bipolar disorder, the symptoms may be more severe and depressive episodes are usually longer. Studies show that one in five people with bipolar disorder has a substance abuse problem. It's important to seek help if you think you have a problem with drinking alcohol or drugs, as there is plenty of support available.
  • Medications

    Prescription medications can also act as bipolar depression triggers because they alter brain chemicals. Drugs that are known to trigger depression include anticonvulsants, benzodiazepines, statins, opioids and certain birth control medications. You should always check with your doctor before taking any new medicines. If you are dealing with a new doctor, make sure to tell them you have bipolar disorder so they can consider that when prescribing medications.
  • Changes to weather

    Changes to weather trigger bipolar depression in 20% of people. Studies show that winter is more likely to trigger a depressive episode, while the transition to spring and summer can cause mania or hypomania.
  • Financial stress

    The sudden loss of a job can be a trigger for bipolar depression, as can ongoing financial stress. Many people find careful money management to be vital in reducing stress and avoiding episode triggers. It may help to limit your access to specific accounts and credit cards during manic or hypomanic episodes, as many people overspend during these periods.
  • Bereavement

    Some life circumstances, such as the death of a loved one, are out of our control. Although bereavement is a common depression trigger in people with bipolar disorder, it can also lead to mania. If you have recently lost a loved one and you have bipolar disorder, you should work closely with your doctor to make sure you have the support and treatment you need.

Can Bipolar Depression Be Triggered in People Who Are Not Bipolar?

If you have a relative with bipolar disorder, you may wonder whether bipolar depression can be triggered in people who don't have this diagnosis. The short answer is yes – any one of the triggers above could spark a manic or depressive episode that may later lead to a diagnosis of bipolar type I or II, but only if the person is genetically predisposed to this condition.

Many people do not know they have bipolar disorder until something triggers an episode, or else they are misdiagnosed with regular depression until a manic or hypomanic episode occurs. According to statistics, the majority of people with bipolar disorder are diagnosed during their teenage years or in early adulthood. It is believed that the stress experienced during these years is what triggers depression in individuals with bipolar disorder.

If you think you might have bipolar disorder, you should monitor your symptoms and seek help from your physician. Bipolar depression triggers (as well as triggers for mania and hypomania) can be avoided with a healthy lifestyle and routine, and your symptoms are treatable with a combination of medication and talking therapies.

article references

APA Reference
Smith, E. (2021, December 28). What Triggers Bipolar Depression?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 24 from

Last Updated: January 7, 2022

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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