Bipolar I Disorder Symptoms and How They Affect You

Bipolar I disorder symptoms are different for everyone, and they can affect people in various ways. Because the condition is traditionally known as "manic depression," many people think they have a good idea of what bipolar I disorder looks like. However, there is a full spectrum of bipolar I symptoms, and each person has their own unique experience of living with the disorder. Being bipolar doesn't always mean swinging from one mood to the next – in reality, bipolar I disorder symptoms are much more complex. Let's take a closer look at what it's like to have bipolar I.

Bipolar Disorder I Disorder Symptoms: The Basics

Bipolar I disorder symptoms can be severe and life-altering. This is why bipolar I is considered to be the sixth leading cause of disability worldwide ("Is Bipolar Disorder a Disability? Can I Get Benefits?"). It also has a relapsing and remitting course, meaning most people experience cycles of manic and depressive episodes that occur throughout their lives. The tell-tale symptoms of bipolar I are as follows.

Manic episodes (mania)
A manic episode is a period of extremely high energy and elevated mood, accompanied by abnormal or impulsive behavior that disrupts life.

Common symptoms of mania include:

  • Fast, uncontrolled speech and hyperactivity
  • Grandiose ideas or feelings of extreme self-importance (“It’s up to me to save the world. This is my destiny.”)
  • Making lots of plans that don’t come to fruition
  • Compulsive spending
  • Reckless behavior, such as drink-driving
  • Substance abuse
  • Hypersexuality
  • Not needing as much sleep as usual, typically less than four hours per night
  • Feeling agitated and restless

Depressive episodes (major depression)

Most people with bipolar I disorder symptoms also experience periods of major depression that last for two weeks or more.

Bipolar depression is characterized by:

  • Feelings of low self-worth
  • Guilt
  • Hopelessness
  • Lack of interest and pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Appetite changes
  • Suicidal thoughts and feelings

Why Bipolar I Symptoms Are Not the Same for Everyone

To be diagnosed with bipolar I disorder, you only need to have experienced one manic episode in your life. While this technically means you could be diagnosed with bipolar disorder and only ever experience one manic episode, most people who have one episode of mania go on to have more. The average number of episodes someone with bipolar I will have in a lifetime is nine. Some people experience rapid cycling – with four or more depressive or manic episodes per year.

Because of the differing regularity in which bipolar I disorder symptoms occur, they will look and feel different for everyone. You may also have particular triggers, such as stress, grief or lack of sleep, which are different from another person’s. Like other mental health conditions, bipolar disorder exists on a scale or spectrum, and you do not necessarily need to have all of the symptoms to fit the diagnostic criteria. Your experience of bipolar I disorder symptoms will be different from someone else's, simply because your genetic make-up and environment are different.

However, the signs and symptoms of bipolar I disorder are more marked than in bipolar II or cyclothymic disorder. To be given a bipolar I diagnosis,  you must have experienced full-blown mania at least once; to the point where it disrupted your life. The term given to a manic episode that does not meet the criteria for full mania is "hypomania," which is characteristic of bipolar type II. Cyclothymic disorder – or cyclothymia – is where you experience regular swings that alternate between hypomania and depression, where neither episode meets the full criteria for bipolar I or II.

If you experience symptoms of bipolar I, bipolar II or cyclothymic disorder, it’s important to consult your doctor so you can be directed to the right course of treatment.

article references

APA Reference
Smith, E. (2021, December 28). Bipolar I Disorder Symptoms and How They Affect You, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 14 from

Last Updated: January 7, 2022

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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