Causes & Effects of Bipolar Disorder

At San Jose Behavioral Health, we believe education is an important first step in the effort to heal from bipolar disorder. Understanding the signs, symptoms, and effects of bipolar disorder can help you get the right type and level of care for yourself or a loved one.

Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Learn About Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar I is a mental health disorder that has serious implications for an individual’s life. This disorder was formerly called manic-depression because it is characterized by episodes of depression and episodes of mania. In some cases, a person can also have hypomanic episodes, which are a less severe form of mania. An individual is diagnosed with bipolar I if he or she experiences depressive episodes and at least one manic episode. Significant mood fluctuations can range from depression, to anger, to frustration, to happiness. An individual with bipolar I may experience a drastic change in mood that may require medical attention.

Symptoms of bipolar I can be intense and can affect an individual’s personal wellbeing and relationships. Co-occurring mental health disorders can further intensify the symptoms of this condition, and substance use and abuse will cause it to worsen. Although this condition is complex, an individual with bipolar I can fully recover and live a better life through treatment.


Bipolar Statistics

According to American Psychological Association, an estimated 0.6% of Americans struggle with bipolar I disorder. Furthermore, men are at a slightly higher risk than women to develop this condition.

With immediate help, along with supportive counseling and medication management, an individual can cope with this disorder and live a normal life. Even so, about 30% of individuals who struggle with bipolar I are not able to engage in daily activities. Research also shows that people with bipolar I have a higher risk of committing suicide.

Causes & Risks

Causes and Risk Factors of Bipolar Disorder

Through continuous research, information about this condition is constantly updated. The exact cause of bipolar I disorder, like many mental health disorders, is not fully known. But scientists do know that there are a few risk factors that place certain individuals at a higher risk of bipolar I. These include:

Genetic: Genetics and heredity play an important role in a person’s mental wellbeing. If an individual’s relatives have a history of schizophrenia and/or bipolar disorder, he or she will have ten times higher risk of developing this mental illness.

Environmental: Genetics combined with environmental influences can increase the risk for an individual to develop bipolar I. For example, the death of a partner or a failed marriage seems to correlate with a higher chance of bipolar I. Incidentally, first world countries have higher reported cases of bipolar I than low-income countries: 1.4% of the population in first world countries and 0.7% in low-income countries have been diagnosed with bipolar I disorder.

Risk Factors:

  • Substance use and abuse
  • Failed marriages through divorce or separation
  • Death of partner/mate
  • A family history of bipolar I and/or schizophrenia
  • Living in a fast-paced and high income country

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar I mania episodes are relatively stronger than hypomanic episodes. Bipolar manic episodes can be very intense and are a key defining factor in bipolar I. Once an individual experiences one manic episode, that individual may be diagnosed with bipolar I.

Signs and symptoms of this condition are:

Manic Episode: Manic episodes include unusual emotions and behaviors such as being irritable or rushing around, rapid talking, or behaving in strange ways. With bipolar I disorder, these symptoms also may include hallucinations or delusions.  Signs of manic episodes include:

  • Fast speech and fast-paced thoughts
  • Excessive happiness or cheerfulness, unusual euphoria
  • Feeling restless and agitated
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Hallucinations or delusions
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Doing many things or projects at the same time
  • Being risky or daring, attempting extreme or even unsafe physical activities

Major Depressive Episode: When an individual with bipolar I has depressive episodes, he or she may find it difficult to perform regular daily activities. Some of the symptoms of a major depressive episode include:

  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Feeling hopeless and worthless
  • Feeling numb
  • Episodes of crying
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Feeling tired and fatigued often
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling depressed for most of the day
  • Significant gain or loss of weight
  • Feeling shameful and/or guilty
  • Unusual sleeping patterns

Lasting Effects

Effects of Bipolar Disorder

If untreated or not given immediate help, bipolar I can cause an individual to experience the following effects:

  • Increased or worsening symptoms
  • Conflicts with relationships
  • Difficulty thinking rationally and making decisions
  • Loss of income
  • Poor management of finances
  • Work or school conflicts
  • Substance use and abuse
  • Suicidal tendencies

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-Occurring Disorders

An individual struggling with bipolar I disorder may also struggle with other mental health disorders. One common co-occurring disorder is substance use disorder, and the effects of this disorder can be exacerbated by the mood changes that the individual goes through. Many individuals attempt to numb or lessen their depression by using substances during the manic phase, which can lead to addiction.

Other mental health disorders that can co-occur with bipolar I are:

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Conduct disorder
  • Intermittent explosive disorder (IED)
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
  • Substance use disorders

My son had been struggling in school and sports because of his newly diagnosed bipolar disorder. It's hard enough being a teen, but even harder being a teen with a mental health disorder. We admitted him to San Jose for treatment and now he is doing much better. He is managing his mood swings and excelling at school thanks to his treatment.

– Kevin D.