Understanding Bipolar II

Understanding Bipolar II

Bipolar disorders are one of those disorders that get a lot of attention but little understanding. 

At some point in your life, I have no doubt you've heard someone say, or said yourself, that someone you know was "totally bipolar."

Usually, this is done to express how wildly someone's mood seems to have changed and is almost always an over-exaggeration.

Unfortunately, this is also one of those rare times that, used as a hyperbole, it actually can capture what bipolar is like. 

This is unfortunate because that leads to the word being used far more often without real understanding, which leads to misuse down the road.

In an earlier blog, I explored Bipolar I, this time I'll be helping you understand Bipolar II.

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Alex Wiley, LPC

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How to Understand Bipolar

First, let's break down the word "bipolar"

"Bi" means, simply, two.

"Polar" comes from the Latin Polus which means the end of an axis.

So, bipolar means two ends of the axis.

For our purposes, that is in relation to the axis of mood; on one end is mania, and the other is depression.

Some of you have probably heard of the term "manic-depressive" and now you know precisely what that means. 

To have bipolar disorder is to experience both ends of the mood spectrum. 

The difference between Bipolar I and Bipolar II is a matter of degree.

Hypomania Vs Mania

The key difference between Bipolar I and Bipolar II is the difference between hypomania and mania.

I'll shortcut the Latin lesson and get to the point, hypo means under, in this case as less than.

Mania is the state of an expansive mood; high energy, inflated self-esteem, increased focus and goal direction, agitation, and so forth. 

So for something to qualify as hypomania then, that means they exhibit these signs but to a lesser degree.

To be even more specific a full manic episode lasts for at least 1 week, and a hypomanic episode lasts for 4 days.

This difference is the difference between Bipolar I and Bipolar II.

If we revisit the introduction you'll recall that I mentioned how the exaggerated use of "totally bipolar" can both encapsulate the experience of actual bipolar while also being misused.

This time frame is exactly why.

People have ups and downs, go through difficult periods or highly successful periods, and may feel tremendously good about themselves, but that does not mean they are bipolar. 

The severity of a bipolar diagnosis lies in how disruptive that behavior is; 4 days in a row is a very noticeable amount of time, much less a full week.

This is a key piece to know in order to understand Bipolar II.


When trying to understand bipolar it's important to know the role depression plays.

To qualify as Bipolar II Disorder, all the criteria need to be met for a depressive episode, as well as all of the criteria for a hypomanic disorder discussed above.

So what makes for a depressive episode?

First of all, like the hypomanic vs manic discussion, it must meet a minimum amount of time experienced- 2 weeks.

Within that two-week period there is a noticeable increase in sadness, loss of interest in activities, significant weight loss or weight gain, significant loss of sleep or oversleeping, feelings of worthlessness, thoughts of death, and a decreased ability to concentrate. 

This isn't a full list but it is what is most common. 

Depression is serious and if you or someone you know is struggling with depression please reach out to a mental health specialist or call 9-8-8 now.

If you hope to understand bipolar you need to understand depression, as well.


If you hope to understand bipolar you need to understand mania, hypomania, and depression.

The information above is a good place to start but there are so many additional informative materials out there such as:





Bipolar disorders are treatable and with so many sources of quality information and support, there is no better time to start learning how to understand bipolar, whether it's you or someone you know. 

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January 28th, 2023