Types of Bipolar Disorder

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Casarella, MD on January 26, 2023
3 min read

There are several types of bipolar disorder. This mental health condition causes extreme mood swings, with emotional highs (mania) and emotional lows (depression). Your mood may seem neutral at times but then returns to extremes. These episodes can last for days or weeks. They might be seasonal. You can have a mix of highs and lows at the same time. 

But bipolar disorder (which used to be called manic depression) goes beyond mood swings. It can disrupt many areas of your life, including your job or school, daily routines, and relationships. 

When you know what type of bipolar disorder you have, you can take steps to treat it. 

Types of Bipolar Disorder

A bipolar disorder diagnosis is based on the intensity of your highs, which can include mania and hypomania. Hypomanic episodes are milder than mania but they can still disrupt your life.

Types of bipolar disorder include:

Bipolar I disorder. This is the more severe form of bipolar. It involves at least one period of mania in your lifetime. That episode may be extreme and dangerous. You may also experience depression, but you don’t have to have a major depressive episode to be diagnosed with this type.

Bipolar II disorder. This can look similar to bipolar I, but this type always has depressive episodes with occasional hypomania. Bipolar II isn’t a milder form of bipolar, it’s a separate diagnosis. But some people with bipolar II go on to develop bipolar I. 

Cyclothymic disorder. Also known as cyclothymia, this is a rare type of bipolar disorder. Its highs and lows are usually less severe than those of bipolar l and bipolar ll. But it can impact your life just as much. You may have shorter periods of hypomanic symptoms and brief periods of depressive symptoms. Cyclothymic disorder can develop into bipolar 1 or bipolar 2. 

Bipolar disorder with mixed features. Your doctor may add the term "with mixed features” to your diagnosis. This means that you have mania and depression during the same episode. For example, you might have high energy and sleeplessness, yet still feel hopeless or have suicidal thoughts. This used to be known as having bipolar disorder with “mixed episodes.”

Bipolar with seasonal features. About 25% of people with bipolar disorder have a depressive seasonal pattern. If your bipolar disorder has seasonal features, you’ll have depressive episodes in the fall or winter. People with bipolar I will have mania in the spring or summer, while people with bipolar II disorder will have hypomania during those months.

Seasonal bipolar disorder is not the same as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – though some treatments can work for both. But SAD can be a subtype of bipolar I and II disorders, as well as major depressive disorder. Some research indicates more people with bipolar II disorder are prone to SAD.

Bipolar with rapid cycling. You may receive a diagnosis of bipolar I or II “with rapid cycling.” This means that you have four or more episodes of mania, hypomania, or depressive episodes in a 12-month span. Mood changes can occur over the course of a few hours or days. If your mood changes four times in a month, that’s called “ultra-rapid cycling.”

There’s no regular pattern to this cycling, though. It can happen at any time throughout the illness. About half of people with bipolar disorder may have it at some time. For most people, it’s temporary. Women are more likely to have rapid cycling. The cause is unknown. 

Unspecified bipolar. You may be diagnosed with this if your symptoms don’t fit the other types of bipolar disorder. But some of your symptoms may be the same, and you still need support.