Everything You Need to Know About Bipolar II Disorder

Medically Reviewed By Joslyn Jelinek, LCSW

Bipolar 2 disorder, also known as bipolar II disorder, is a psychological condition characterized by cycles of hypomanic and depressive episodes. Treatments include medication, psychotherapy, and self-care strategies.  Bipolar disorder is a chronic mental health condition that affects an estimated 2.8% of adults Trusted Source National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Governmental authority Go to source in the United States, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). There are two main types of bipolar disorder: bipolar I disorder and bipolar II disorder.

A person with bipolar II disorder may have less severe hypomanic episodes (compared with manic episodes in bipolar I), but the depressive episodes are generally longer-lasting and more severe. 

This article provides an overview of bipolar II disorder, including how it differs from bipolar I disorder, and its symptoms, causes, and treatment options. 

What is bipolar II disorder?

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Bipolar II disorder is a psychological disorder that involves Trusted Source National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Governmental authority Go to source a cycle of depressive episodes and periods of elevated mood, known as hypomanic episodes. The length of these episodes may range from days to weeks or longer. 

Unlike bipolar I disorder, the mood shifts that occur with bipolar II disorder never reach full mania. However, these episodes are still potentially dangerous and require treatment.

While hypomanic episodes are typically less severe than mania, depressive episodes in bipolar II disorder are sometimes severe and life threatening. It is thus important to get a proper diagnosis and treatment. 

Bipolar II disorder vs. bipolar I disorder

There are three types of bipolar disorder Trusted Source National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Governmental authority Go to source . However, the most common types are bipolar I disorder and bipolar II disorder.

A person with any type of bipolar disorder will experience periods of extreme highs and lows in mood and activity levels. The main difference between bipolar I disorder and bipolar II disorder lies in the severity and length of the high mood episodes. 

A person with bipolar I disorder will typically experience full manic episodes, known as mania. These episodes will likely affect them in school, work, and their social life. A person with bipolar I disorder may experience hallucinations, paranoia, or delusions during severe manic episodes. These manic episodes generally last at least 7 days and sometimes require hospitalization.

A person with bipolar II disorder, on the other hand, will typically experience less severe hypomanic episodes, known as hypomania. Hypomania generally does not have a drastic impact on your ability to function or socialize. These periods typically last at least 4 days and do not require hospitalization. 

While someone with bipolar II disorder will experience less severe high mood episodes than someone with bipolar I disorder, they tend to have longer and more frequent depressive episodes. People with bipolar II disorder can have severe depressive episodes that require professional help, while people with bipolar I disorder may only experience mild depressive episodes.

What are the symptoms of bipolar II disorder?

According to the NIMH Trusted Source National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Governmental authority Go to source , people with bipolar II disorder will experience periods of depression and hypomania. During these periods, you may experience unpredictable changes in your mood, activity levels, and overall behavior. Symptoms depend on your current mood state and will vary from person to person. 

Common symptoms of a hypomanic episode may include: 

  • feeling very up, happy, or elated
  • having more energy than usual and feely jumpy or wired
  • having racing thoughts
  • being very talkative and jumping from topic to topic
  • needing less sleep
  • feeling unusually proud or important
  • taking unnecessary risks and showing poor judgment
  • experiencing a loss of impulse control

Common symptoms of a depressive episode may include:

  • feeling down, sad, or worthless
  • feeling lonely 
  • eating too much or too little
  • having little to no energy
  • sleeping a lot
  • experiencing a lack of interest in things that normally would interest you
  • experiencing suicidal thoughts 

The severity and type of symptoms you experience may vary over time.

If you are experiencing drastic changes in your mood or activity levels, consult a mental health professional. They will evaluate you and determine a proper treatment plan for your individual needs. 

What are the causes and risk factors of bipolar II disorder?

The exact cause of bipolar II disorder is unknown. However, researchers believe that it is possibly due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. 

Risk factors for bipolar II disorder include:

  • having a close relative, such as a parent or sibling, with bipolar disorder
  • experiencing an extremely stressful or traumatic event
  • using drugs or alcohol frequently

While any one of these risk factors alone will not necessarily trigger the disorder, your risk may increase if you have more than one of these risk factors.

If you are concerned about your risk of developing bipolar II disorder or are showing symptoms, consult a mental health professional. 

How is bipolar II disorder diagnosed?

Bipolar II disorder is typically diagnosed in the late teenage years or early adulthood. The diagnosis process generally involves a review of your medical and psychiatric history. A thorough psychiatric assessment is typically completed in which you will be asked questions about your current and past psychiatric states, including what life events were occurring at those times.

Your doctor may also order lab work to rule out other illnesses or causes that may contribute to your symptoms.  

In some cases, people with bipolar II disorder may not view their hypomanic episodes as concerning. In cases such as this, it may be beneficial to have a close friend or family member involved in some of the diagnostic process. 

If you believe you or someone you know might have bipolar II disorder, it is important that you speak with a mental health professional. They will help diagnose the condition and develop a treatment plan to ensure you are getting the proper care. 

How is bipolar II disorder treated?

While a bipolar II disorder diagnosis can feel scary, there are treatment options available to help manage mood fluctuations and other symptoms. 

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), bipolar II disorder is generally treated with a combination of the following: 

  • Medication: Mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, and antidepressants are commonly used to reduce and manage bipolar II disorder mood shifts. It may take time to determine which medications work best for you.
  • Psychotherapy: Also known as “talk therapy,” this treatment helps people with bipolar II disorder identify hypomanic and depressive episodes and learn to cope with their symptoms.
  • Self-care strategies: Developing healthy habits can help manage your bipolar II disorder symptoms and reduce the risk of hypomanic or depressive episodes. Your doctor may recommend you maintain a consistent routine, perform regular exercise, and avoid drugs and alcohol. 

Your treatment plan may vary and may change over time. It is important to keep your doctor informed of your symptoms, medication side effects, and how well you have adhered to the treatment plan.

Outlook and living with bipolar II disorder

While treatment will help manage the symptoms of hypomanic and depressive episodes, the majority of people with bipolar II disorder will continue to experience some of the effects of the disorder, although they are typically milder. 

According to SAMHSA, although full recovery is difficult to achieve, consistently following your treatment plan is important to help reduce the risk of illness relapse.

By following their treatment plans, most people with bipolar II disorder are able to manage their symptoms sufficiently to live fulfilling lives.

Summary

Bipolar II disorder is a chronic psychological condition that is characterized by periods of highs (hypomania) and lows (depression).

Hypomania is a less severe and shorter-lasting version of full mania, which is seen in people with bipolar I disorder. 

Treatment for bipolar II disorder generally consists of a combination of medication, psychotherapy, and self-care strategies. In most cases, a person with bipolar II disorder is able to live a fulfilling life with proper medical care and treatment. 

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Medical Reviewer: Joslyn Jelinek, LCSW
Last Review Date: 2022 Apr 20
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