Causes & Effects of Bipolar Disorder

No one experiences bipolar disorder the same way as someone else. Understanding the signs, symptoms and side effects of bipolar disorder is a key component toward starting the recovery journey.

Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Learn about bipolar disorder

Characterized by the presence of extreme emotional highs and emotional lows, bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that can be exceedingly disruptive to a person’s life if treatment to curb symptoms is not sought. Broken down into three specific types, bipolar disorder can manifest in different ways and in varying levels of severity. The three types of bipolar disorder are:

Bipolar I, the most severe form of the three types, occurs when an individual alternates between periods of mania and depression. These fluctuations in mood are known to cause a great deal of dysfunction and hinder functioning. Depending on the person, an individual may experience more bouts of mania than depression or vice versa.

Bipolar II involves episodes of depression and at least one episode of hypomania. While symptoms of this type are less severe and do not impact a person’s life in the way bipolar I does, bipolar II sufferers still experience impaired functioning when treatment is not implemented.

Cyclothymia, the mildest form of bipolar disorder, includes depressive and hypomanic disturbances, but is more pervasive in mature adults. Shifts in mood occur less often and are less severe than those experienced in bipolar I and II.

Effective treatment options that minimize symptoms and reduce the possible effects of Bipolar Disorder are available. Regardless of the type of bipolar disorder a person is suffering from, it is possible for a person to find relief from distressing symptoms and live a life free from the constraints of this potentially devastating mental illness.


Bipolar disorder statistics

Research has found that nearly 3% of adults in the United States suffer from a type of bipolar disorder. With the average age of onset being 25, this mental illness can affect people of any age. Recent studies have realized that children are also affected by bipolar disorder, however because mental health professionals have only recently concluded this, it is not known exactly how many children are suffering from this mental health condition.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for bipolar disorder

Since experts in the field of mental health have yet to isolate a single cause for the development of bipolar disorder, the following causes and factors are believed to contribute to the onset of symptoms for some people:

Genetic: If an individual has a family history of bipolar disorder, he or she has a higher chance of displaying signs and symptoms at some point in life. Studies have shown that children with parents who have bipolar disorder are 15% to 25% more likely to experience onset of this mental illness. This finding suggests that bipolar disorder has a strong genetic component.

Physical: A leading cause for bipolar disorder is an imbalance in mood and impulse regulating neurotransmitters in the brains of those with this condition. When this imbalance occurs, an individual struggles to manage their emotions and reactions to stimuli and can encounter a number of obstacles when trying to resist impulses.

Environmental: Substance use is believed to induce the onset of bipolar symptoms in some people. Especially for those with a predisposition to the disorder, use or abuse of certain drugs can trigger mania in a person and or make bipolar symptoms more pronounced. Additionally, experiencing or being exposed to trauma or going through a major life change can lead to an eventual diagnosis of bipolar disorder for some individuals.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of bipolar disorder or other mental illness
  • History of substance use or abuse
  • Experiencing or exposure to trauma
  • Experiencing a major or unexpected life change   

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder

Depending on the type of bipolar disorder a person is suffering from, the signs and symptoms present can vary. The following signs and symptoms infer that a person is suffering from this mental health condition and should be noted if and when an individual is seeking treatment:

Behavioral symptoms (manic episode):

  • Impulsive behaviors
  • Inability to stay focused in conversation
  • Acting in a grandiose manner
  • Rapid speech
  • Engaging in risky behaviors
  • Starting multiple tasks, yet not finishing any of them
  • Hypersexuality
  • Aggressive behaviors

Behavioral symptoms (depressive episode):

  • Social isolation
  • Unable to fulfill roles / responsibilities
  • Self-harm
  • Attempts to end one’s own life

Physical symptoms (manic episode):

  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Decreased appetite
  • Elevated body temperature

Physical symptoms (depressive episode):

  • Lethargy
  • Altered eating habits
  • Abnormal sleep patterns
  • Weight gain or loss

Cognitive symptoms (manic episode):

  • Racing thoughts
  • Flight of ideas
  • Inattentive
  • Lack of concentration

Cognitive symptoms (depressive episode):

  • Delayed thinking
  • Experiencing hallucinations
  • Poor decision-making
  • Inability to concentrate

Psychosocial symptoms (manic episode):

  • Prolonged periods of emotional excitability
  • Elevated mood
  • Having a grandiose sense of self
  • Agitation
  • Irritability

Psychosocial symptoms (depressive episode):

  • Feeling guilt or shame
  • Constant worry
  • Declined interest in things that were once enjoyed
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Suicidal thoughts


Effects of bipolar disorder

Without therapeutic and pharmaceutical interventions, bipolar disorder can cause a great deal of distress and contention in a person’s life. Examples of possible effects include:

  • Academic failure
  • Disciplinary action at school
  • Inability to retain or maintain employment
  • Financial strife
  • Demise of interpersonal relationships
  • Social isolation
  • Interaction with the legal system
  • Substance use, abuse, or addiction
  • Self-harm
  • Attempts at suicide

Co-Occurring Disorders

Bipolar disorder and co-occurring disorders

Because some symptoms associated with bipolar disorder overlap with other mental health conditions, it is common for a person with bipolar disorder to have an additional mental health diagnosis. Additionally, bipolar disorder can cause symptoms of another mental health disorder to manifest due to the changes in brain chemistry that occur when someone is struggling with bipolar disorder. Listed are a few mental illness that can occur alongside bipolar disorder:

  • Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Specific phobias
  • Panic disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Substance use disorders
what past clients say

StoneCrest was the only place that was able to help my daughter get her bipolar disorder under control. The care she received was phenomenal and now she's happy and healthy!

– Parent of a former client
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