The prevalence of bipolar I disorder is about the same in men and women, whereas multiple studies have shown that women have a higher incidence of bipolar II. In clinical terms, there are important differences between bipolar in men and women. These differences apply to the nature of the illness, perception of quality of life and how the individual behaves in their social environment. Here we will focus on how bipolar symptoms in men are different from those of women, but first let’s take a look at the types of bipolar disorder.
Types of Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar I Disorder
This is characterized by one or more manic episodes or mixed episodes (symptoms of both mania and depression) that last at least seven days. Typically, a person will also experience periods of depression with episodes lasting at least two weeks. It’s common for episodes to be so severe that a person will need to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital.
Bipolar II Disorder:
This is characterized by a pattern of one or more major depressive episodes and at least one hypomanic episode. A hypomanic episode is less severe than a full-blown episode of mania. The elevation in mood and excited behavior isn’t as intense. Bipolar II is sometimes misdiagnosed as major depression. This can happen if hypomanic episodes go unrecognized or unreported.
This is a milder type of bipolar disorder. It’s defined by numerous alternating periods of hypomanic and depressive symptoms. The episodes generally last at least two years in adults and one year in children and adolescents. The severity of this type may change over time.
An Overview of Common Bipolar Symptoms
While many bipolar disorder signs are unique to men, both men and women are likely to share some common bipolar symptoms. The signs of mania in bipolar include:
- Feeling unusually “high” or optimistic
- Feeling extremely irritable
- Having unrealistic beliefs about your abilities
- Reckless behavior
- Being easily distracted and unable to concentrate
- Increased energy level
- Inability to sleep
- Racing thoughts
- Talking quickly
- Impaired judgment
- Hallucinations and delusions (in severe cases)
The signs of bipolar depression include:
- Feeling sad or empty most of the time
- Lack of energy
- Changes in weight or appetite
- Sleep problems
- Low self-esteem or self-loathing
- Concentration and memory problems
- Inability to experience pleasure
- Suicidal thoughts
Bipolar Signs and Symptoms in Men
Bipolar symptoms in men can look quite different than the mood disorder’s symptoms in women. These differences can include:
- Earlier onset than women
- More severe than women
- Higher incidence of manic episodes
- More prone to aggressive behavior during manic episodes
- More common dual diagnosis of drug and alcohol abuse
How Masculinity Can Affect Symptoms in Men
Men are less likely to voluntarily seek help for psychological conditions like bipolar disorder. Many men with bipolar believe the strong, manly thing to do is to deal with their problems on their own. Many men want to be self-reliant at all costs. For a lot of men with bipolar disorder, asking for help feels like a sign of weakness. Based on masculine norms, men may also be more likely to view antidepressant medication or therapy as shameful or embarrassing. This belief increases their risk of suicide. Untreated bipolar disorder makes the symptoms (including suicidal thoughts) worse. This may lead to making a suicidal plan.
Many men with bipolar disorder may also deny they have the condition. This is because men are taught not to show emotions. So rather than admit they’re in emotional pain, they hide their symptoms. This is how bipolar symptoms in men can get out of control. This attitude towards mental health can also delay treatment for bipolar disorder symptoms.
Bipolar symptoms in men may be hard to detect for reasons other than denial or secrecy. For example, mania is characterized by an exaggerated and ongoing state of euphoria. People just “feel great,” resulting in extreme overconfidence. This can be problematic in a culture that encourages men to be confident, with confidence being linked to masculinity. If a man displays extreme overconfidence, he (or anyone else) may not recognize his behavior as a bipolar disorder symptom.
A tendency for risk-taking behavior is another common bipolar symptom in men. This involves a greater likelihood to abuse alcohol or drugs. But this symptom may go unnoticed in men because many people aren’t surprised when they engage in this kind of risky behavior. An increase in reckless behavior might be a cause for concern but not necessarily a sign of bipolar disorder in others’ eyes.
Bipolar Symptoms in Women
Women with bipolar disorder are more likely to experience rapid cycling. This is characterized by four or more episodes of depression and mania in one year and appears to be relatively more resistant to treatment.
There are other distinctive features of the mood disorder symptoms in women. They include:
- Later onset than men
- Higher incidence of depressive episodes
- Higher probability of experiencing simultaneous or overlapping symptoms of mania and depression (mixed episodes)
- Increased likelihood of experiencing a physical illness at the same time (thyroid disease, in particular)
- More likely to experience seasonal episodes – For instance, manic episodes tend to occur in summer, while depressive episodes usually take place in fall, winter and spring.
- Greater incidence of comorbid conditions, such as eating and anxiety disorders
Women with bipolar disorder are also more likely to receive treatment for their condition. This may because women find it easier to express their states of depression compared to men. Men can struggle to open up about their bipolar symptoms.
The above discussion shows that men have unique warning signs of bipolar disorder. This means they often need a tailored approach to bipolar treatment. Close attention needs to be paid in particular to men with bipolar disorder who are struggling with substance abuse or suicidal thoughts. These bipolar symptoms in men are risky and require immediate treatment. It’s also important for men living with bipolar disorder to understand bipolar signs and know when it’s time to ask for help. Recognizing the issue and getting support is the most effective way to cope with bipolar disorder in the long-term.