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How to identify and manage bipolar disorder behaviour

Bipolar disorder - which is characterised by intense mood swings that range from excessive highs to extreme lows - can have a significant impact on a person’s behaviour.

If you have concerns that you or someone close to you may be displaying signs of bipolar disorder, we have outlined the common behaviours a person may exhibit during times of mania, hypomania or depression. We have also outlined strategies that can help with the management of bipolar disorder and its associated behaviours, and highlighted information on the treatment that is available here at Priory Group.

Common behaviours related to bipolar disorder

The behaviours associated with bipolar disorder, alongside the severity of these behaviours, can differ from person to person.

Some of the more common symptoms include the following:

Behaviour related to mania or hypomania

  • Talks quickly and loudly, becomes difficult to interrupt and changes the subject rapidly
  • Easily distracted from tasks
  • Spends excessive amounts of money
  • Engages in high-risk activities
  • Gives away their possessions
  • Leaves their job or makes rash business decisions
  • Overly welcoming, affectionate and tactile
  • Awake and active for extended period of time due to a reduced need for sleep
  • Noticeable increases in goal-directed activity, such as starting new projects at home or at work
  • Grandiose thinking

Behaviour related to depression

A person with bipolar disorder will also experience extreme lows, which can include the below:

  • Becomes reclusive or distant, where they don’t answer calls, texts or emails
  • Avoids challenging tasks, instead preferring to spend more time at home or in bed
  • Careless with regards to their education or employment
  • Sleeps more or less than usual
  • Moves or speaks slowly, and seems less animated
  • Eats more or less than usual

Ways to manage bipolar related behaviours

For a person with bipolar disorder, there are strategies that can be put in place to help with the management of their extreme shifts in moods, so that they have less of an impact on their daily life.

Build a good support network

As isolation can have a negative impact on a person’s mood, it is important for someone with bipolar disorder to regularly meet up with family and friends. This can give them a chance to talk through their thoughts and feelings, and receive support when they are going through difficult times.

Doctors, counsellors or other health professionals can form part of this support network, providing a person with a place to check-in so that they are able to keep a check on any mood changes and behaviours, and receive advice to help them maintain balance. Attending support groups with other people who have bipolar disorder can also be useful. 

Monitor behaviours

People with bipolar disorder often find it useful to keep a daily log of their moods, their thoughts and their behaviours. It can help them to identify and then manage behaviours that lead to mood changes, an example of which could be sleeping too much or too little.  

These daily logs can also help a person to recognise when their behaviour starts to change, so that that they are able to put plans in place and report the changes to those in their support network.

Maintain a healthy routine

A consistent sleep pattern, exercise routine and healthy eating plan can all help to manage behaviours related to bipolar disorder. Taking medication as prescribed and attending all doctor appointments is also important, along with making time to see family and friends in order to relax and unwind.

Accepting treatment and support

Receiving the correct treatment can help a person with bipolar disorder to manage the highs and lows that they experience. Medication can be an important aspect of this treatment, if appropriate and prescribed by a doctor.

Psychotherapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy (IPT) and couple or family-focused therapy can also be a crucial part of treatment:

  • CBT can help a person to recognise the signs of a mood change and learn ways to move on from unhelpful thoughts when they are in a state of mania or depression, so that these negative thoughts and emotions don’t have such a negative impact on how they go onto behave
  • IPT can be beneficial when someone is experiencing prolonged or frequent periods of depression. It can help them to target thoughts and symptoms that may be affecting their behaviour in personal relationships, so that they are able to interact more effectively regardless of the highs and lows of their mood
  • Couples and family therapy can help to educate others on bipolar disorder. It can also give people the opportunity to talk through and improve family interactions, and develop strategies so that each person can support one another going forward

Have a plan for emergencies

It is important for a person with bipolar disorder to have a crisis plan for times when they feel that their moods are out of control. This plan can include emergency contacts, information about medications as well as the signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder. It should also contain hotlines to contact as well as the emergency telephone number 999.

Support and treatment for bipolar disorder at Priory

If you are looking to access support and treatment for bipolar disorder, Priory Group can provide you with a personalised programme of care. With both inpatient and outpatient services available at our hospitals and wellbeing centres across the UK, we are able to make sure that the people we support get the correct level of help and are able to work towards achieving a better quality of life.

Reviewed by Dr Liam Parsonage (BA, MBBS, MRCPsych, PGCert) Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital North London

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