Whether you have bipolar disorder or you know someone with it, you’ll want to be aware of the signs of mania -- the extreme highs that can lead to big risks with money, sex, and even safety.
If you see these signs in a loved one who has bipolar disorder, let them know your concerns and encourage them to tell their doctor.
If you’re the one with the condition and a family member or friend tells you that they’re concerned, listen to them and get help as soon as possible. It can be hard to see mania in yourself, and you may even like how it feels. But you need to get it under control for your health.
There are a few common signs that mean a manic phase is about to start or is already under way:
The first sign might be super-fast speech, so quick that anyone listening can’t get a word in edgewise.
“Someone who is normally more thoughtful and interactive suddenly becomes hyper-talkative, talking over you and not really giving you a chance to get into the conversation,” says Dean MacKinnon, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
When someone is manic, they may say things that greatly exaggerate their abilities and sense of self-esteem.
For instance, they may think that “they are better at stuff -- a better writer, a better artist -- than people who are already accomplished in those things,” MacKinnon says. Or they may claim expertise that they don’t have.
Sleep Falls Apart
Mania can make someone cut way down on sleep or not get any. They feel like they don’t need it.
“People burst out of bed in the middle of the night full of energy ready to take on the day, or they stay up late into the night busy with projects or other sorts of stimulation,” MacKinnon says.
At first, they may seem to get away with it. “They function perfectly fine the next day on little sleep,” MacKinnon says.
But the longer someone gets too little sleep, the worse their bipolar symptoms become.
It Has a High Cost
During mania, people can take a lot of risks that they normally wouldn’t. And that can take big toll for a long time.
Just ask Tonya Williams, who found out she has bipolar disorder in 2008. When she was manic, she’d stay up night after night writing poetry, singing, or shopping online.
One time, “I opened 12 new credit accounts and went on a spending spree,” says Williams, now a lawyer in Raleigh, NC. “Everything I purchased, I bought in excess: towels and sheets, leather jackets, sneakers, trading cards, perfume. I racked up $77,000 in credit card debt and spent a sizeable retirement account.”
Eventually, her house was foreclosed, her car was repossessed, and she filed for bankruptcy.
Five years after going bankrupt, Williams now takes medication to control the mania and her other bipolar disorder symptoms. “I bought another house, got a new car, and my credit score is now over 700,” she says.
The Highs Aren’t Always Off the Charts
Mania has a less severe form, called “hypomania,” that can feel manageable.
“The only real difference with hypomania is the severity: how much it affects the person,” MacKinnon says. “The symptoms are generally the same.”
This kind of episode can feel good. “My mania actually helps me get things done,” says Abigail Camarota, a jewelry designer in Louisville, KY.
But hypomania can turn into full-blown mania or severe depression.
“When I am manic -- and it’s taken me years to recognize the signs -- I can’t sit down and rest. I want to work more, I want to finish more pieces,” Camarota says. “But I realize I need to take a step back because it will drive me crazy or make me physically sick if I don’t.”
It Can Feel Thrilling at First
Some people with bipolar disorder skip their medication because they like how the highs feel.
“Research shows it takes people about 10 years from the time of their first manic episode for them to really accept treatment,” MacKinnon says. “It’s not just because they like the way they feel when they’re manic. They’ve also lost the ability to gauge that their mood is abnormal.”
Be Aware of Triggers
Things like extreme stress, too little sleep, drugs, and alcohol can prompt a manic episode.
That’s why it’s so important for people with bipolar disorder to avoid alcohol and other drugs, make sure they get enough rest, and learn ways to manage stress (such as exercise, positive relationships, and meditation).
Also, although mania can happen at any time of year, for some people it’s more common in the summer. Experts don’t know why. You should still look out for mania year-round, but when summer rolls around, keep the seasonal trend in mind.