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Bipolar disorder, or manic-depressive disorder, is a mental health disorder that’s more well-known. However, that doesn’t stop it from being misunderstood; especially when it comes to the differences between bipolar 1 and bipolar 2. While we usually think of bipolar disorder as just one thing, the truth is that it occurs on a spectrum, ranging from bipolar 1 to bipolar 2.

  • Bipolar 1 disorder is characterized by manic episodes lasting at least a week. Symptoms of mania (including inability to sleep, extreme agitation, and high-risk behavior) can be so severe that the patient ends up needing hospitalization. Bipolar 1 can also have periods of depression, usually lasting 2 weeks or more.
  • Bipolar 2 disorder also has periods of extreme ups and downs. However, bipolar 2 “ups” consist of hypomania, which is less severe than a full-blown manic episode.

Defining Hypomania

Because of the lack of manic episodes, bipolar 2 can often be misdiagnosed as depression. However, patients with bipolar 2 still experience “high” periods, called hypomania. Hypomania will contribute to feelings of agitation, or disproportionate excitement. The difference will be marked enough that close friends and family notice a difference in behavior, but hypomania doesn’t usually cause the same dangers as mania, and thus it often goes unreported. Untreated and unmanaged, episodes of hypomania can progress into full-blown mania, and an individual’s diagnosis can change from bipolar 2 to bipolar 1.

Depression and Bipolar 2

Bipolar 2 is more strongly characterized by the “depressive” side of the scale. Symptoms of depression can include changes in eating and sleeping habits, a lack of interest in things that were previously stimulating and enjoyable, hopelessness, lack of energy, and even thoughts of suicide. In fact, the risk of suicide in individuals with bipolar 2 is much higher than those with bipolar 1.

Misdiagnosing bipolar 2 as depression can be dangerous, as many treatments for depression don’t work effectively for bipolar 2, and can also aggravate symptoms of hypomania. A different treatment approach, and an awareness of hypomanic episodes is important.

The Importance of Treatment and Diagnosis

Both bipolar 1 and 2 can only be diagnosed by a qualified psychologist or physician. A clear diagnosis is essential because it’s the first step in treatment. Although bipolar disorder can’t be permanently cured, it can certainly be managed. People with either bipolar 1 or 2 can live healthy, normal lives. Here at AMFM, we see individuals from all points of the bipolar spectrum, and help them to identify and take action to manage these challenges, even when they’re complicated by additional issues like addiction or trauma. Call us to learn more.