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Knowledge Base » Mental Health » Differentiating Between Bipolar Disorder Types: I, II and Cyclothymia

Differentiating Between Bipolar Disorder Types: I, II and Cyclothymia

Bipolar disorder (BD) is characterised by alternating periods of elevated mood (mania or hypomania) and depressive episodes. It is a condition that is not simple to categorise. Within its spectrum, there are distinct subtypes, each with its own manifestation of symptoms and challenges. Cyclothymia, a milder form of BD, adds another layer to this complexity with its chronic fluctuations between hypomanic and depressive states. Understanding these variations is crucial for accurate diagnosis and effective treatment.

According to Bipolar UK, 1.3 million people in the UK have bipolar. It’s also believed that around 5% could be on the bipolar spectrum. These figures make it one of the most common long-term conditions in the country. Almost as many people are living with the disorder as there are cancer. It’s also more common than dementia, epilepsy, autism, rheumatoid arthritis and learning disabilities. However, it can take an astonishing 9-10 years to get an accurate diagnosis and there are often misdiagnoses before. 

In this article, we explore the primary subtypes of BD: Bipolar Disorder Type I, Bipolar Disorder Type II and Cyclothymia. By exploring the unique features and diagnostic criteria of each subtype, including the often-overlooked cyclothymia, we aim to provide clarity surrounding this condition.

Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Classified as a mood disorder, BD is characterised by recurrent episodes of extreme mood swings, oscillating between periods of heightened euphoria, known as mania or hypomania, and episodes of deep depression. These mood fluctuations can vary in intensity and duration, profoundly impacting various aspects of an individual’s life.

The mood fluctuations associated with bipolar disorder are much more extreme than most people’s everyday experiences of ups and downs. Those with the condition are often encouraged to rate their moods based on a scale of 1 to 10 with 0 or 1 being suicidal thoughts, 2 or 3 being depression, 7 or 8 being hypomania and 9 or 10 being mania. Your average person without the condition wouldn’t fluctuate much beyond the range 4 through to 6. 

Affecting millions of individuals worldwide, bipolar disorder does not discriminate based on age, gender or socio-economic status. Its far-reaching effects can disrupt relationships, impair occupational functioning and undermine overall quality of life. Some people who have the condition can live normally for weeks or months at a time. However, the manic highs and depressive lows are extremely problematic and destructive.

Despite its prevalence and impact, bipolar disorder remains a complex and often misunderstood condition, necessitating a deeper understanding of its nuances and manifestations.

Bipolar disorder types

What is mania?

Although many people can comprehend the depressive side of bipolar disorder, many struggle to understand what is meant by mania or hypomania. This is a feeling of elevated and potentially irritable mood. It affects energy and activity levels. 

When people are going through manic episodes, they may feel extremely excited, euphoric, more sexually aroused, confident or superior to others or as if their thoughts are speeding up. 

Signs of mania include talking a lot and talking quickly, impulsive decision-making, spending recklessly or gambling, saying inappropriate or rude things, taking risks and not sleeping. 

Hypomania is somewhere in between mania and a normal happy mood. People feel as though there is a rush of adrenaline or as if they have a burst of energy. They’re confident, creative and happy. They may be friendly, productive and talk a lot. These symptoms aren’t as excessive as a true mania. It can feel pleasurable but if it tips into mania, it can feel scary.

Bipolar Disorder Type I

Bipolar Disorder Type I is one of the most severe forms of this complex condition. Its defining feature is the presence of at least one manic episode, which distinguishes it from other mood disorders. According to diagnostic criteria, a manic episode is characterised by a distinct period of abnormally elevated, expansive or irritable mood, lasting for at least one week or requiring hospitalisation. Alongside this elevated mood, individuals may experience a notable increase in energy levels, leading to heightened activity, talkativeness and a decreased need for sleep.

Key characteristics of manic episodes extend beyond mere euphoria. They encompass a range of behaviours marked by impulsivity, grandiosity and impaired judgement. These may manifest as reckless spending sprees, risky behaviours or engaging in activities with potentially harmful consequences. Such impulsivity can exacerbate the already profound disruptions to daily functioning caused by manic episodes.

Moreover, the manic episodes associated with this subtype often escalate to such an extent that they impair an individual’s ability to maintain social relationships, fulfil work or academic responsibilities or engage in activities of daily living. Additionally, manic episodes in BD Type I can be accompanied by psychotic features, including hallucinations or delusions, further complicating the clinical picture and necessitating prompt intervention.

In essence, Bipolar Disorder Type I is challenging, both for those experiencing it and for healthcare professionals tasked with its diagnosis and management. Understanding the hallmark features of manic episodes and their potential for psychosis is crucial in providing effective treatment and support to individuals grappling with this debilitating condition.

Bipolar Disorder Type II

Bipolar Disorder Type II is a variant of the condition. It is characterised by recurrent episodes of hypomania and depression. Unlike Bipolar Disorder Type I, individuals with Type II never experience full-blown manic episodes but instead navigate the spectrum of hypomania, a milder form of elevated mood.

Diagnostic criteria for Bipolar Disorder Type II stipulate the occurrence of at least one hypomanic episode and one major depressive episode. Hypomanic episodes share similarities with manic episodes, including increased energy, heightened creativity and a decreased need for sleep. However, they are notably less severe and do not result in the marked impairment or psychosis often associated with mania.

Distinguishing between manic and hypomanic episodes is crucial in the diagnostic process. While both involve elevated mood and increased activity, hypomanic episodes are less intense and disruptive. Individuals experiencing hypomania may still function relatively well in their daily lives, maintaining social relationships and meeting work obligations, albeit with some difficulty. This subtlety in symptom severity poses challenges in diagnosing Bipolar Disorder Type II, as hypomanic episodes can be misconstrued as periods of heightened productivity or simply dismissed as personality traits.

The nuanced nature of hypomanic symptoms underscores the importance of thorough clinical evaluation and a comprehensive understanding of the individual’s history and functioning. Identifying the presence of hypomania alongside depressive episodes is essential for an accurate diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder Type II, as it informs appropriate treatment strategies and facilitates timely intervention.

In summary, Bipolar Disorder Type II presents diagnostic complexities rooted in the subtlety of hypomanic symptoms. By recognising the distinctions between manic and hypomanic episodes and appreciating the impact of these mood fluctuations on daily functioning, clinicians can effectively identify and address the unique challenges faced by individuals with this subtype of bipolar disorder.

Different types of biploar

Cyclothymic Disorder (Cyclothymia)

Cyclothymic Disorder, often referred to as Cyclothymia, is a distinctive manifestation within the spectrum of bipolar disorder. Unlike the pronounced mood swings observed in Bipolar Disorder Type I and Type II, cyclothymia is characterised by chronic cycling between mild hypomanic and depressive symptoms.

The hallmark of cyclothymia lies in the subtle yet persistent fluctuations in mood. Individuals with this disorder experience periods of elevated mood, akin to hypomania, marked by increased energy, heightened creativity and a more positive outlook. However, these episodes are less intense and disruptive compared to full-blown hypomanic episodes seen in other bipolar subtypes. Conversely, individuals with cyclothymia also endure periods of mild depression, characterised by persistent sadness, lethargy and diminished interest in activities.

Cyclothymia is a milder form of bipolar disorder. As such, it often flies under the radar due to the less severe nature of its mood swings. Despite its subtlety, it can still have a significant impact on an individual’s life, affecting relationships, work performance and overall well-being. The chronic cycling between hypomanic and depressive states can create a sense of unpredictability and instability, making it challenging for individuals to maintain a consistent level of functioning.

Moreover, the chronic nature of cyclothymia distinguishes it from other mood disorders. While the severity of symptoms may fluctuate over time, the underlying pattern of mood cycling persists for an extended period, typically lasting for at least two years in adults and one year in adolescents.

Understanding the distinct features of cyclothymia and its impact on daily functioning is crucial for accurate diagnosis and effective management.

Diagnosing and Differentiating BD Types

The process of diagnosing and differentiating between the various types of bipolar disorder (BD) requires a comprehensive assessment of symptoms, medical history and functional impairment.

Central to this diagnostic process is a thorough clinical evaluation conducted by a qualified mental health professional like a psychiatrist. This evaluation typically involves a detailed exploration of the individual’s symptoms, including the presence and duration of manic, hypomanic and depressive episodes. Additionally, medical and psychiatric history, as well as family history of mood disorders, are carefully considered to discern patterns and identify potential risk factors.

Accurate diagnosis is for choosing appropriate treatment approaches for individuals with bipolar disorder. Differentiating between BD types informs the selection of pharmacological interventions, psychotherapeutic modalities and lifestyle interventions tailored to address the specific needs and challenges associated with each subtype. 

For instance, individuals with Bipolar Disorder Type I may require more intensive management strategies to address the severity of manic episodes and the risk of psychosis, whereas those with Bipolar Disorder Type II may benefit from treatments targeting depressive symptoms and mood stabilisation.

Despite the importance of accurate diagnosis, distinguishing between Bipolar Disorder Type II and unipolar depression poses significant challenges. The symptoms of hypomania in BD Type II may be subtle and easily overlooked, leading to misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis. Moreover, individuals with BD Type II often present with depressive symptoms that closely resemble those seen in unipolar depression, further complicating the diagnostic process. As a result, careful assessment and ongoing monitoring are essential to differentiate between these conditions and ensure appropriate treatment.

Treatment Approaches

Managing bipolar disorder (BD) requires a comprehensive approach. Treatment options typically encompass a combination of medication, psychotherapy and lifestyle management strategies. These should be tailored to each individual’s specific subtype of BD and their unique circumstances.

Medication is important in stabilising mood and reducing the frequency and severity of mood episodes in bipolar disorder. Mood stabilisers, such as lithium and anticonvulsants, are commonly prescribed to help regulate mood swings and prevent manic or depressive episodes. Additionally, atypical antipsychotics and antidepressants may be used in conjunction with mood stabilisers to target specific symptoms or mood states. The selection of medication is guided by factors such as the subtype of BD, the predominant symptoms and the individual’s response to treatment.

Psychotherapy, including cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy (IPT) and psychoeducation, provides valuable support in managing bipolar disorder. These therapeutic approaches help individuals develop coping skills, identify triggers for mood episodes and improve communication and problem-solving abilities. Psychotherapy can also address co-occurring issues such as substance abuse, relationship difficulties and stress management.

Lifestyle management strategies also promote stability and well-being in bipolar disorder. Regular exercise, adequate sleep, healthy eating habits and stress reduction techniques are integral components of self-care for individuals with BD. Additionally, maintaining a consistent daily routine, monitoring mood symptoms and avoiding alcohol and illicit substances can help prevent mood destabilisation and reduce the risk of relapse.

It’s important to note that treatment approaches may vary based on the specific subtype of BD and the individual’s unique needs and preferences. For example, individuals with Bipolar Disorder Type I may require more aggressive medication management to address the risk of psychosis during manic episodes, whereas those with Bipolar Disorder Type II may benefit from psychotherapy focused on managing depressive symptoms and enhancing mood stability.

Furthermore, ongoing care and support are essential in managing bipolar disorder effectively. Regular monitoring by healthcare providers, open communication with treatment teams and engagement in support groups or peer support networks can provide valuable resources and encouragement. By embracing a holistic approach to treatment that addresses the biological, psychological and social aspects of bipolar disorder, individuals can achieve greater stability, resilience and quality of life.

Living with Bipolar Disorder

Living with bipolar disorder (BD) is challenging. Individuals have to manage mood swings and medication side effects. They also need to navigate social stigma and cope with the impact on relationships and daily functioning. The stigma surrounding mental illness can compound these challenges, leading to feelings of shame, isolation and reluctance to seek help.

It’s essential for individuals with BD and their loved ones to recognise that they are not alone in their struggles and that support is available. Seeking support from mental health professionals, support groups or trusted friends and family members can provide invaluable encouragement, validation and guidance in coping with the challenges of bipolar disorder.

Managing stress and maintaining a healthy lifestyle are key components of self-care for individuals with BD. Stress can exacerbate mood symptoms and trigger episodes of mania or depression. This makes stress reduction techniques such as mindfulness, relaxation exercises and time management essential tools for managing the disorder. Additionally, prioritising regular exercise, nutritious eating habits, adequate sleep and avoiding alcohol and other substances can help promote stability and well-being.

Despite the challenges, it’s important to recognise that with proper treatment and support, individuals with bipolar disorder can lead fulfilling and meaningful lives. With advances in medication, psychotherapy and lifestyle management strategies, many individuals can achieve stability and pursue their goals and aspirations. Moreover, sharing experiences about bipolar disorder can help reduce stigma and promote greater understanding and acceptance.

Ultimately, living with bipolar disorder requires resilience, self-awareness and a commitment to self-care and ongoing treatment. By embracing a holistic approach to wellness and seeking support from healthcare providers, loved ones and peers, individuals with BD can successfully navigate the highs and lows of their condition.

differentiating Bipolar types


In conclusion, bipolar disorder encompasses a spectrum of mood disorders characterised by recurrent episodes of mood swings, including periods of mania or hypomania and depression. Understanding the distinctions between Bipolar Disorder Type I, Type II and Cyclothymia is essential for accurate diagnosis and effective management.

Bipolar Disorder Type I is defined by severe impairment and the potential for psychosis. Bipolar Disorder Type II involves recurrent episodes of hypomania and depression, with hypomanic symptoms being less severe than those seen in Type I. Cyclothymia, on the other hand, represents a milder form of bipolar disorder characterised by chronic cycling between mild hypomanic and depressive symptoms.

Patients need to get an accurate diagnosis because it means an appropriate treatment plan can be created. This may include medication, psychotherapy and lifestyle management strategies. These aim to stabilise mood, reduce symptoms and improve overall well-being.

By recognising the unique features of each subtype and implementing evidence-based interventions, individuals with bipolar disorder can achieve greater stability, resilience and quality of life. Reducing stigma is also a crucial step in promoting understanding, acceptance and support.

In summary, accurate diagnosis and individualised treatment plans are essential in navigating the complexities of bipolar disorder so that individuals can live fulfilling and meaningful lives despite the challenges posed by their condition.

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About the author

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Louise Woffindin

Louise is a writer and translator from Sheffield. Before turning to writing, she worked as a secondary school language teacher. Outside of work, she is a keen runner and also enjoys reading and walking her dog Chaos.

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