How to recognize high-functioning bipolar disorder (and how to help)

Some people have mental health disorders with very prevalent symptoms. Yet there are also people who have high-functioning disorders with symptoms that aren’t easy to notice. Symptom noticeability can also vary from person to person. As a result, it may seem like a person isn’t struggling from an outsider point of view, but they could still be dealing with mental health issues under the surface.

Having high-functioning bipolar disorder means that while a person may have symptoms of the disorder, it doesn’t interfere with their day-to-day life. They can still maintain healthy relationships and have an independent lifestyle. If they don’t show outward displays of their diagnosis, then it’s easy for people around them to not recognize if they are truly struggling with their mental health. 

It’s important to keep in mind that high-functioning bipolar disorder isn’t a recognized mental illness diagnosis and doesn’t have an official medical definition. It’s often just a note made by a mental health provider, which can help them figure out the best treatment methods for that individual.

Symptoms that can help you recognize someone with high-functioning bipolar disorder

One of the main symptoms of bipolar disorder is having “episodes,” which means having mood shifts that range from manic episodes of feeling “up” to depressive episodes of feeling “down.” While manic episodes can last up to a week, depressive episodes can last for over two weeks.

People with high-functioning bipolar disorder still experience manic and depressive episodes, but the symptoms are less extreme and noticeable than those with a lower-functioning level of the mood disorder. However, just because their episode symptoms are less noticeable doesn’t mean you can’t recognize them if you know what to look for.

Some manic episode symptoms you may notice in someone with high-functioning bipolar disorder may include:

  • Displaying feelings of extreme excitement
  • Showing high levels of energy
  • Being egotistical
  • Not wanting to eat or sleep
  • Talking quickly or with a loud voice
  • Having illogical reasoning
  • Making out-of-character decisions

Some identifiable depressive episode symptoms in someone with with high-functioning bipolar disorder can include:

  • Having feelings of extreme sadness and hopelessness
  • Lacking enjoyment in activities they usually like
  • Having low energy levels
  • Having difficulty with concentration and memory
  • Lacking an appetite
  • Having trouble sleeping

4 ways to help someone with high-functioning bipolar disorder

Once you realize that someone in your life may have high-functioning bipolar disorder, or they disclose their diagnosis, you may want to help them in your own way. But it can be hard to know where to start. Should you give tough love? Should you give them space? Here are some ways that you can support your friend or family member with their mood disorder:

  • Educate yourself — Learning about bipolar disorder, both high and low functioning, can help you understand the struggles your friend or family member may be experiencing. Many people don’t know that there are actually three levels of the disorder.They’re called bipolar I, bipolar II, and cyclothymic disorder, and each level varies in intensity and diagnosable criteria. Educating yourself can also help you spot the symptoms and know when your loved one is having an episode.
  • Be present and understanding — Even if you can’t personally relate to what they’re going through, showing support can go a long way for someone with bipolar disorder of any function. Letting them know that you’re there to lend an ear or provide encouragement shows them that they aren’t alone. They want to know that you’re on their side, not against them.
  • Work together to make a plan — Planning ahead can make a difference in many facets of life, and managing a mental health disorder is one of them. Making a game plan for someone in your life who has bipolar disorder can help them feel more in control of their symptoms. The game plan should be made when they are in a good mental and emotional state of mind. It should discuss courses of action for episodes, as well as time in between their mood changes.
  • Discuss treatment options — It can be scary for a person struggling with a mental health disorder to realize that they need treatment. But even though there are people around them who care for them, treatment is always a great option. Turning to mental health providers is the best way for someone with bipolar disorder to receive the professional help they need to manage their diagnosis. And you can find the supportive and compassionate help your loved one needs from our team of licensed, clinical experts. 

Lightfully Behavioral Health provides treatment for any bipolar disorder function level

At Lightfully, we provide several programs that can assist people with high-functioning bipolar disorder on their mental health treatment journey. We offer four programs: residential treatment, Virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (vIOP), Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), and Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP), also called our Day Treatment Program.

Change is possible. When someone in your life needs help with their bipolar disorder diagnosis, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team. We’ll take the next steps together, toward the fullest, brightest version of them.

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