How Long Do Bipolar Episodes Last?

Bipolar disorder, the clinical name for manic depression, is a debilitating mental condition that is defined by oscillating periods of abnormal energy and major depression. It typically develops in individuals around late adolescence, however instances of childhood and even infant onset have been reported. Bipolar disorder is diagnosed through a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation and is often managed through a combination of anti-depressants and mood stabilizers like lithium.

Common Duration

To be clinically considered a bipolar episode, the instance of mania or depression must last unbroken for at least seven days. Without treatment, manic episodes will last for around two to three months, while untreated depressive episodes can persist for six months or more. It is unusual for a manic episode to naturally last for more than four months. Individuals who have rapid-cycling bipolar disorder experience at least two episodes of mania and two episodes of depression in one year.

Manic Symptoms

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The flagship symptom that typifies a manic episode is a sudden and persistent increase in energy to abnormally high levels. This energy will manifest itself in an elevated or expansive mood, a feeling of euphoria, and flights of ideas. However, this heightened mood will also translate to a steep increase in charisma. Manic individuals will experience floods of creative thought coupled with agitation and quick temper. A grandiose sense of infallibility and confidence in one’s own personal powers will cause manic individuals to be both financially and physically reckless, abuse substances, become sexually promiscuous. It is common for manic individuals to make expensive and impromptu purchases, such as buying a jet airplane. Physically, manic individuals will experience a reduced need for sleep or food, and may often go for several days without resting or eating.

Depressive Symptoms

Individuals experience a depressive episode will exhibit emotional and physical symptoms to a non-bipolar patient suffering from depression. Emotionally, the depressive individual will lose interest in their work, daily activities, and hobbies, as well as battle feelings of guilt, hopelessness, and unexplainable sadness. Physically, depressed bipolar patients will crave carbohydrates and sugar, lose energy, and feel constantly fatigued. Oversleeping is another trademark symptom of a depressive episode, and it is not uncommon for an individual to stay in bed for up to twenty hours a day. There is also an increased risk of self-harm and suicidal thoughts.


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Bipolar disorder is typically found in individuals who have a family history of the illness. The psychological community has identified at least three genes that, when mutated, contribute to the development of the condition. However, a small but notable number of cases develop in individuals who have no genetic proclivity. In such instances, it is believed that a serious mental event, such as extreme hormone disruption or emotion trauma, trigger the start of mania-depression cycling.

Duration with Treatment

The duration of bipolar episodes can be significantly shortened through medication. Episodes that last longer than seven days typically only occur in individuals who have not been properly diagnosed or who refuse treatment. Bipolar patients are prescribed medication to handle both extremes of their episodes, and are encouraged to start a regimen with the appropriate drug when they feel the onset of an episode. However, many bipolar patients resist taking their mood stabilizers for manic episodes because they have the common side effect of creating a flat and emotionally disengaged feeling.