Mood swings are a common experience for many people. However, when these shifts in mood become extreme and disrupt daily life, making it hard to do everyday tasks, it may be a sign of a more serious condition called bipolar disorder. Distinguishing between common mood swings and bipolar disorder is important for understanding the condition and providing the appropriate support.
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghJuly 18, 2023 bipolar, bipolar disorder, Bipolar I Disorder, Bipolar II Disorder, medication management, mental illness, mood swing, psychiatric assessment, psychiatric services0 comments
What Are Mood Swings?
Mood swings are defined as “a sudden or intense change in emotional state” (Leonard, 2020). They are a typical part of the human experience and can be effected by various factors such as stress, hormonal changes, lack of sleep, or relational conflicts. Mood swings may involve fairly quick shifts in mood, such as happiness to sadness, or irritability to calmness. These shifts are usually brief and do not drastically impact daily functioning or impair relationships with others.
What Is Bipolar Disorder?
On the other hand, bipolar disorder is a chronic mental health condition illustrated by clear episodes of more drastic mood swings that vary in intensity and duration. It involves extreme shifts between two opposites: manic episodes and depressive episodes. During manic episodes, people may experience elevated mood, boosts in energy, impulsivity, and grandiose thoughts, such as heightened self-esteem. In depressive episodes, people can feel overwhelming sadness, loss of interest in activities, increased fatigue, and feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness. These episodes can last for weeks or even months and significantly interfere with daily life, work, and relationships.
Differentiating Between Mood Swings and Bipolar Disorder
Several major factors help distinguish everyday mood swings from bipolar disorder. First, consider the duration and intensity of mood shifts. While mood swings are short-lived and relatively mild, bipolar disorder episodes are more severe and persistent. Second, look at how the mood swings impact one’s daily functioning. Mood swings usually do not affect one’s ability to carry out their responsibilities, while bipolar disorder can have a great impact on one’s personal and professional life. Finally, the frequency of mood shifts are important to consider. Bipolar disorder episodes occur in distinct cycles, while mood swings are not as predictable.
If you or someone you know experiences mood swings that resemble the symptoms of bipolar disorder, it is important to seek professional help, as a psychiatric evaluation may be necessary for a diagnosis. Some treatment recommendations for bipolar disorder may include medication, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), psychoeducation, and family therapy. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder, and taking the steps to get help and support, can significantly improve the quality of life for those who have the condition. Understanding the key differences between mood swings and bipolar disorder can help individuals seek appropriate treatment and support they may need.
Written by Counseling Intern Téa Del Rio.
Interested in a Psychiatric Assessment for Bipolar Disorder or Counseling?
If you’re seeking a psychiatric assessment for bipolar disorder, personalized medication management, or counseling services, we’re here to help. Reach out to us today at 412-856-WELL or simply fill out the form below to take the first step towards your well-being. Our team is ready to support you on your journey.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).
Leonard, J. (2020). What causes mood swings in males and females. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/mood-swings
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghMarch 14, 2022 bipolar disorder, Bipolar I Disorder, Bipolar II Disorder, depression, manic depression, medicine, mental health, mental health awareness, mental illness, mood swing, preventing suicide0 comments
As a therapist I have had many clients who were diagnosed with or in the process of being identified as having Bipolar I Disorder. Similarly, I recognize experiences with acquaintances whose personalities seemed to dramatically change over time. Before learning more about bipolar disorder, I wondered what had caused these changes, was it me, them, or had our relationships simply changed.
Bipolar I Disorder was once called manic depression because a person with this diagnosis often swings from extreme highs and lows as part of mania and depression phases. Typically, mania involves extreme increases in energy levels and reduced sleep needs, risky and impulsive behaviors, poor decision making, restlessness, and irritability among other symptoms. During a manic episode, a person may feel invincible, on top of the world, and as though nothing can stand in the way of success.
And after, depression occurs as part of a cycle—what goes up, must come down. As good as the mania feels, the depression feels equally bad, including extreme symptoms of sadness, emptiness, and hopelessness/helplessness. Both mania and depression symptoms may occur for several days as part of a repeated cycle. A person can become psychotic during each phase, seeing, hearing, or smelling things that are not there. Likewise, a person may experience suicidal ideation during each phase of bipolar disorder, wanting to end their cycle of pain, poor decision making, and confusion about what happened.
Without treatment a person with Bipolar I Disorder can cycle more regularly between mania and depression, also experiencing more extreme symptoms of each. Examples could be a person quitting their job, filing for divorce, or trying to end their life. Bipolar I Disorder can be difficult to diagnose. This is because mood swings may look different for different people. Additionally, symptoms of mania, including jumpiness, anxiety, and restlessness, may be confused with a generalized anxiety disorder. Distractibility can be confused with ADHD. Depression can look like a simple depressive disorder.
Diagnosis and treatment for a bipolar disorder may not occur until a trained mental health professional observes the significant and long-lasting symptoms of mania and depression as part of a recurrent cycle. Likewise, obtaining a history of similar symptoms among family members can be critical for making a bipolar diagnosis. Additionally, knowing a history of recent trauma as potentially triggering the beginning of the mania/depression cycle might be helpful.
The good news is that there is help to better regulate mood swings and return to a more stable lifestyle. As with any other medical condition, taking medications has proven beneficial for feeling more in control of mania/depression symptoms. Mental health therapy, including individual therapy, couples/marital therapy, and family therapy, has been proven helpful for understanding the impact of having bipolar symptoms, including how we perceive ourselves and are perceived by others.
Supportive therapy can help people with a bipolar diagnosis learn how to create balances between working excessively, staying up late, doing drugs, drinking too much alcohol, and building financial safeguards for preventing overspending. Establishing a supportive circle of friends, professionals, and community resources is usually part of feeling better about self and the world. Keeping mood diaries through various apps can help people monitor potential mood swings.
I look at the world today as being more humane and supportive of people with a mental illness like Bipolar I or II. However, it remains essential that a person with manic/depression symptoms recognize the advancements in treatment of this disorder and reach out for help.
The Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh is here to help if you are experiencing symptoms of bipolar disorder. Please contact us at 412-322-2129 if you need support.Learn More