Polar Opposites: Differences Between Bipolar I and II Disorder

Imagine this: You experience a sudden, random, huge burst of energy, creativity, and motivation. However, this is not just a “few cups of coffee” burst of energy.

This is a new level of energy that is so powerful that it can motivate you to catch up with friends, be the most productive person in the office, finish that business plan you have been working on, or start a new art project Perhaps it leads you to clean the entire house, walk the dogs, or make family dinner as well. And the best part is, you got it all done before the sunset.

But, suddenly, you discover that this newfound energy has disadvantages. Maybe you have not slept in a few days so you are a bit jumpy and irritable. Your thoughts could be racing and you might be having trouble making good decisions.

In fact, you may have lost six figures in a bad business deal. Eventually, your mood can begin to shift and eventually develop feelings of hopelessness. Life may become more unbearable every day, so you fall behind at work, isolate yourself, and neglect even the most trivial day-to-day tasks. There are days where you may not even bother getting out of bed.

For 2.8% of adults in the US, that scenario is only a quick snapshot of what it is like to suffer from a mental health disorder that impacts almost every area of their lives. This is known as bipolar disorder, and it is a serious mental illness.

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a type of mood disorder that causes people to experience unusual changes in energy levels and disposition. Bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme highs (known as mania) and devastating lows (known as depression).

Bipolar I and II: What Are They and What Makes Them So Different?

There are two categories of bipolar disorder: bipolar I and bipolar II. Although they share a number of similarities, they vary in type, frequency, and intensity of episodes.

Manic and Hypomanic Episodes

Bipolar II is characterized by depressive episodes with at least one hypomanic episode, which is a less intense version of full-blown mania. On the contrary, bipolar I is characterized by both hypomanic and full-blown manic symptoms that last all day for 1 to 2 weeks. Manic episodes in bipolar I are marked by the following symptoms:

  • Feelings of grandiosity, self-importance, and inflated self-esteem
  • An urge to be more talkative or social than usual
  • The ability to stay awake for more than one day without feeling tired; excessive energy
  • Racing thoughts and an influx of ideas
  • A notable increase in one’s appetite for food, sex, substance use, socialization, and other pleasurable activities
  • Tendency to become inattentive or easily drawn to external stimuli
  • Irritability or agitation
  • Increase in either goal-directed or non-goal-directed social, professional, academic, and sexual activities
  • Excessive involvement in impulsive activities that result in painful or unpleasant consequences, including unrestricted spending sprees, risky sexual activity, or irresponsible investments

The magnitude of manic episodes is the most notable difference between bipolar I and II. Manic symptoms and episodes in bipolar I are so extreme that they impair the ability to function in social and professional settings and often require hospitalization.

Depressive Episodes

Depressive episodes in both bipolar I and II are very, if not entirely, similar. They are both marked by symptoms such as:

  • Daily decrease in energy, interests, and motivation
  • Feelings of sadness, worthlessness, hopelessness, and guilt that may be the result of a delusion
  • Difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or thinking
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia every day or almost every day
  • Daily increase or decrease in appetite
  • Weight gain or loss of at least 5% of body weight in one month without dieting
  • Psychomotor agitation or delay that occurs almost every day
  • Clinical distress or disruption in social or occupational functioning
  • Recurring thoughts of death or bouts of suicide ideation without a specific plan to carry out the act; suicide attempts

Despite the similarity in symptoms, bipolar I and II are distinguishable from one another. Bipolar II is primarily characterized by the severity and frequency of depressive episodes, unlike bipolar I, which may or may not have depressive episodes. In fact, depressive episodes are not a requirement for a person to be diagnosed with bipolar I.


Although bipolar I and II have similar symptoms, they are distinguished by the magnitude of their episodes. Bipolar I is commonly referred to as the most severe category of the two because of its high risk for hospitalization. Additionally, bipolar II is primarily diagnosed based on depressive disorder, whereas bipolar I can be diagnosed without depressive episodes.

Whether a person is diagnosed with bipolar I or bipolar II, it is important to be familiar with the disease as a whole. Seeing the big picture of an illness can be one of the most effective ways to treat it.

While there is currently no cure for bipolar disorder, it can be successfully managed with a combination of both therapeutic treatment and comprehensive knowledge of the disease. Although bipolar disorder may present an array of challenges for you and those who care about you, you can still live a very happy and productive life with this disorder. At Valiant Living, we offer individual and family treatment programs for those battling substance use disorders and mental health illnesses, such as bipolar disorder. Our all-male facility located in beautiful Centennial, CO, offers patients the vital tools needed to identify their triggers, eliminate and replace distorted thoughts, reduce past harmful behaviors, and provide education and support to patients and their family members. If you or someone you know is suffering from substance use or a mental health issue and would like more information about our various programs, please contact us today at (303) 952-5035.