Are your mood swing a sign you have bipolar? Three signs to tell

Are your mood swings regular… or a sign you have bipolar? Expert shares three signs to tell

  • How do you know if your emotional rollercoaster is normal or a sign of bipolar?
  • Experts share tell-tale signs that ever-changing mood may be cause for concern

Mood swings are something we all suffer.

Yet, how do you know if your day spent riding an emotional rollercoaster of manic highs and depressive lows is normal or a sign of bipolar? 

In hope of answering that question, experts have shared three tell-tale signs which could signal that your ever-changing mood may be a cause for concern.

Many describe everyday ups and downs as mood swings. But if it seems like you spend your days riding an emotional roller coaster of manic highs and depressive lows, there could be an underlying reason

Extreme symptoms

Those with bipolar — a condition that affects 1.3million Brits and 7million Americans — suffer extreme swings that cannot be resolved by making small changes, such as getting more sleep.

During a manic episode, sufferers may feel joyful, uncontrollably excited, confident, easily distracted and irritable. 

They may also be more active than usual, talk very quickly, be very friendly to others, act inappropriately or out of character and sleep very little.

Dr Guy Goodwin, an emeritus professor of psychiatry from the University of Oxford, said: ‘When experiencing a high mood, or hypomania, [bipolar] patients tend to talk a lot.

‘They can be extremely active, not sleep much and feel over-confident. 

What else could mood swings be? 

Other than bipolar disorder, there are many potential triggers of mood swings.

These include ‘sleep deprivation, fluctuating blood sugar, stress, hormonal changes, thyroid concerns and caffeine intake’, says Dr Sai Achuthan, a consultant psychiatrist at Cygnet Health Care in Taunton, Somerset.

A constant low mood that lasts two weeks or more could be a sign of depression, especially if it is coupled with not getting enjoyment out of life, feeling hopeless and not being able to concentrate on everyday things. 

Dr Achuthan recommends making a GP appointment if mood swings start to last for more days or feel more intense than usual — and fluctuate from elated to depressed.

Dr Guy Goodwin, an emeritus professor of psychiatry from the University of Oxford, advised seeking medical help if they occur alongside difficulty concentrating, impulsivity, excessive spending or begin to harm relationships.

If a GP think it’s necessary, they will refer you to a psychiatrist, he added.

‘If their mood escalates even higher, it becomes mania and they may take risks they wouldn’t normally take. They could even lose touch with reality altogether, feel paranoid and experience hallucinations.’

Meanwhile, during a depressive episode, a bipolar patient may feel upset, tearful, agitated, tired, uninterested in the things they usually enjoy and suicidal.

They may act withdrawn, have trouble sleeping or sleep too much, eat too much or too little, avoid contacting people and spend a lot of time thinking upsetting things. 

Dr Goodwin added: ‘If someone with bipolar is experiencing a low mood, they can go into a deep depression, where they’re unable to function and may have recurring suicidal thoughts.’

Long-lasting changes

While most people will have days when they feel happy and joyful and others when they’re sad and exhausted, those with bipolar experience these feelings for weeks.

It is a misconception that those who rapidly swing from one mood to the next are affected by the condition. 

Depressive episodes last at least two weeks among those with bipolar disorder, although they can last for months, according to mental health charity Mind.

Meanwhile, mania tends to last for at least one week.

Dr Goodwin explained: ‘Mood swings can be the way some people describe their everyday feeling of being a bit down or happy.

‘However, changes in mood, which may persist over many days and become cyclical, can be the way bipolar disorder starts.’

Dr Sai Achuthan, a consultant psychiatrist at Cygnet Health Care in Taunton, Somerset, explained that bipolar sufferers will have at least two episodes during which their mood and activity levels are ‘significantly disturbed’.

Disrupts usual activities

While people can continue with normal life while suffering from mood swings, those with bipolar tend to suffer much more disruption.

Dr Goodwin said: ‘Someone without a mood disorder can experience a mood swing, but the symptoms are much less extreme, and they’d be able to carry on living their life as normal. 

‘A mood swing for someone with bipolar often disrupts their usual activities.’

Mood swings that are symptomatic of bipolar may lead you to do dangerous or disruptive things.

‘People with bipolar often don’t have complete cognitive control when they’re experiencing a mood swing, so they end up doing things they wouldn’t normally do and later regret,’ Dr Goodwin said.

‘This behaviour can be extremely disruptive – for example, they might miss work if they’re depressed, or take impulsive ill-judged risks if they’re manic.’

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