Sometimes I get so wrapped up in research, I forget some people are looking for some introductory information like the different between the types of bipolar disorder. Thanks to commenter on my GooglePlus feed, I was reminded of this fact and I decided to answer her question here so I could give her more detail.

Bipolar Terminology

Unfortunately, within bipolar terminology resides more bipolar terminology. But don’t be scared, I have information on most terms on my site and I shall try to walk gently into that good encyclopedia.

But let’s try to get rid of the terminology confusion: What is the difference between bipolar type I and bipolar type II?

Bipolar Disorder Type 1

Bipolar disorder type I was the first recognized form of bipolar disorder and truly personifies “manic depression.”

Manic Depression

Manic depression was the old term for the disorder and in spite of the fact that the term “bipolar” has been around since the 1970s, you still see manic depression in a variety of places both for historical reasons and simply due to lack of up-to-date knowledge. In reality, manic depression and bipolar are the same thing.

Bipolar Disorder I

As the term manic depression implies, bipolar type I consists of two mood states: Depression and mania.

Depression is a low mood state and in bipolar disorder the diagnostic criteria for depression as the same as for major depressive disorder.

Bipolar I Depression:

  • Has symptoms like lack of pleasure in previously enjoyed activities, weight and sleep changes, loss of energy and preoccupation with death or suicide
  • Goes on for two weeks or more
  • Can become psychotic

Bipolar type I also includes mania. Mania is a high mood state.

Bipolar I Mania:

Bipolar I vs. Bipolar IIMixed Episodes

Mixed moods, where evidence of mania and depression occur together, are currently considered part of bipolar type I (and not bipolar II) but will be included as part of bipolar type II in the next version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

Bipolar Disorder Type 2

Bipolar disorder type II was actually recognized very early on as well but wasn’t initially included as a mental illness diagnosis. In bipolar II, a person experiences the same depression as in major depressive disorder but they experience hypomanias – literally “lesser” manias – elevated moods that aren’t as high as manias.

Bipolar II Depression

Bipolar II depression is identical to bipolar I depression and major depressive disorder and is diagnosed in the same way.

Bipolar II Hypomania:

Has the same diagnostic criteria as mania except:

  • Lasts four or more days
  • Does not cause life threatening consequences
  • Does not contain psychosis

And, “The mood disturbance is observable to others.”


Cyclothymia is a mild form of bipolar disorder where a person mood swings over a period of years that go from mild depression to elevated mood and excitement.

Bipolar Moods

Bipolar moods last the minimum duration as noted above, but can last for weeks or months beyond that. There may be periods of “normal” mood in between mood swings.

Note that there are rapid-cycling versions of bipolar disorder where moods last shorter periods of time (sometimes only hours) but these are not officially represented in this version of the DSM.

More Questions About Bipolar Disorder?

Just ask.