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The bipolar disorders are characterized by cycling mood changes. The affected individual alternates between severe highs (manic or hypomanic episodes) and severe lows (major depressive episodes), often with periods of normal mood in between. The mood changes can be rapid but most often occur gradually.

Bipolar I Disorder is characterized by a manic episode that last at least seven days, severe enough to cause marked impairment in the individual’s daily functioning, hospitalization to prevent harm to self or others, or the presences of psychotic symptoms. Usually, major depressive episodes occur as well.

Bipolar II Disorder is characterized by a pattern of hypomanic and major depressive episodes, but the criteria for a full manic episode are not met. The hypomanic episode is associated with a clear change in daily functioning that is uncharacteristic of the individual.

Cyclothymic Disorder (Cyclothymia) is a milder form of bipolar disorder. Cyclothymic disorder is characterized by at least 2 years of periodic hypomanic and depressive symptoms. However, the symptoms do not meet the diagnostic criteria for any other type of bipolar disorder.

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Additional Resources

TED TALK – Joshua Walters – Embrace your “mental skillness”