Can the Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder Present Differently in Women?
Why you can trust Lightfully Behavioral Health?

Lightfully’s professional culture is designed to keep everyone connected, motivated and nutured. Why is this so important? We believe the way we treat our employees is how we show up for clients – through encouragement, honesty, and compassion.

Clinically Reviewed 
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Mental health disorders affect every gender, but that doesn’t mean that it looks the same for everyone. For example, certain depression symptoms are often more common in men than in women. When it comes to bipolar disorder, it’s possible for symptoms to present differently for women and men.


Knowing about these differences is also important because: 


  • Understanding these differences can lead to more accurate and timely diagnoses in women.


  • Being aware of these differences helps ensure they receive treatment for the correct condition.


  • Recognizing sex-specific bipolar differences can help healthcare providers tailor treatment plans to better meet the needs of women with bipolar disorder.


  • Acknowledging these differences can help reduce stigma and misconceptions surrounding bipolar disorder in women, leading to better support and understanding.


What you need to know about bipolar disorder


Before we dive into the specifics of bipolar disorder in women, let’s talk about it in a broader sense. 


Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder that was formerly known as manic-depressive disorder or manic depression. Its distinctive features include shifts in levels of energy and emotion. Bipolar disorder causes periods of manic highs followed by depressive lows, known as episodes. It affects 5.7 million adults in the U.S., which is approximately 2.6% of the country’s adult population.


Manic episode symptoms include:


  • Feeling intense positive emotions, such as euphoria
  • Heightened self-importance
  • Racing thoughts


Depressive episode symptoms include:


  • Persistent feelings of sadness
  • Low motivation and energy
  • Lack of interest or pleasure in activities


How bipolar disorder symptoms present differently in women


Women and men are relatively equally at risk for developing bipolar disorder. However, factors like family history, stress and substance abuse can affect when men and women’s symptoms first appear. Interestingly, men may experience their first bipolar episode up to five years earlier than women.


The main way that bipolar disorder symptoms in women differ from those in men is that women are more likely to be diagnosed with bipolar 2 disorder, which causes hypomania episodes. Hypomania episodes involve milder symptoms of elevated mood and energy compared to the full manic episodes seen in bipolar 1 disorder.


There are two main types of bipolar disorder: bipolar 1 and bipolar 2. People with bipolar 1 have the highest severity of symptoms. They have manic episodes that last up to seven days, followed by depressive episodes that can last more than two weeks. Bipolar 2 causes hypomania as opposed to mania. There are also longer periods of emotional stability in between hypomania and depressive episodes.


Other differences in how bipolar disorder presents in women include:


  • Its symptoms often occur in a seasonal pattern or extreme cycles.


  • It can lead to a higher likelihood of experiencing mixed mania, which are episodes of both high and low moods, compared to men.


  • It often occurs with physical health issues, such as thyroid disease or migraines.


  • It often leads to more frequent depressive episodes for women with bipolar 2, which can sometimes lead to being diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD) instead of bipolar disorder.


How to treat bipolar disorder in women


Psychotherapy is considered one of the most effective treatments for bipolar disorder. By working with a licensed clinical therapist, you can gain a better understanding of how your symptoms manifest and learn effective strategies for managing your bipolar episodes.


Psychotherapy can offer several benefits for women with bipolar disorder including:


  • Identifying and understanding your triggers
  • Developing healthy coping mechanisms for managing symptoms
  • Learning emotional regulation skills


If your therapist is also a licensed psychiatrist, they can also prescribe medication to help you manage your symptoms day-to-day. However, your therapist may need to refer you to a licensed psychiatrist if they aren’t one themselves. 


Your therapist can also: 


  • Assess your symptoms
  • Provide you with support and encouragement
  • Guide you in how to seek a formal diagnosis of bipolar disorder if necessary


How Lightfully Behavioral Health helps women with bipolar disorder


Everyone deserves to receive treatment that’s tailored to their particular symptoms. For example, people struggling with manic episodes will need more immediate and intensive support than those with hypomania.


When it comes to personalized therapy, process-based therapy (PBT) is what you’re looking for. At Lightfully Behavioral Health, we use PBT to look at your bipolar disorder from every angle and to treat it using evidence-based, clearly defined, data-driven and whole-person-centered care.


PBT involves using integrated interventions, such as arousal reduction and motivational enhancement, to improve the core processes that are the basis for bipolar disorder symptoms in women: 

  • Difficulty with emotions
  • Difficulty with behaviors
  • Difficulty with thoughts
  • Difficulty with relationships

PBT is incorporated into all four of our levels of care, two of which are our Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) or Virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (vIOP). If you require extensive behavioral care, it’s worth exploring our Residential Treatment Center (RTC) or Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP).


Change is possible. When you’re ready to seek help with your bipolar disorder, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team. We’ll help you find the support you need to move toward the fullest, brightest version of you.

Connect with Admissions

Related Content