Untreated bipolar disorder can have a broad range of effects on various aspects of a person’s life. This includes work, relationships, and mental and physical health.
Without effective treatment, the condition can cause episodes of mania and depression. Symptoms of a manic episode involve intense excitement, excessive energy, and racing thoughts. A depressive episode can cause sadness, sleep difficulties, and low energy.
An effective treatment regimen may entail a combination of medications and psychotherapy. However, other options are available.
This article discusses untreated bipolar disorder, including the effects it may have on work, relationships, and mental and physical health. It also explains treatment options, outlook, and support resources.
Without treatment, symptoms may affect a person’s life in various ways, including in the following areas:
Bipolar disorder can lead to difficulties with the following:
- going to school or work
- performing everyday tasks
- maintaining relationships
In some cases, the extreme shifts in mood that the condition causes can lead people to consider suicide.
If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:
- Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
- Listen to the person without judgment.
- Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
- Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
- Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.
According to a
Cognitive challenges are issues related to thinking and may involve temporary problems with:
The effects bipolar disorder can have on an individual can subsequently affect their relationships with loved ones.
According to the review, potential effects on romantic relationships during periods of illness can include:
- increased levels of self-sacrifice and caregiving from partners
- volatility in the relationship
- sexual dissatisfaction
The 2021 review notes that some research suggests having bipolar disorder may lead to a lower rate of childbearing. However, the authors point out that these findings may be controversial due to methodological flaws in the studies in question.
It also states that some research suggests certain behaviors that can occur during bipolar episodes may lead to adverse effects on parent-child interactions or contribute to the development of psychiatric conditions in children.
However, the authors state that the illness may sometimes have positive impacts, such as personal evolution, strengthening relationships, and introducing new perspectives.
Learn more about bipolar disorder and relationships.
Untreated bipolar disorder usually becomes more severe.
- more frequent suicidal behavior
- more frequent mood episodes
- a tendency toward a higher rate of lifetime mood instability, which involves rapid cycling of episodes and possible antidepressant-induced mania
People with the condition also
A 2021 study featuring 118 individuals with bipolar disorder and 215 people without the condition indicated that it may affect physical health.
The results suggest a statistically significant link to:
- higher rates of weight gain
- decreased physical activity
- increased co-occurring physical conditions
However, it is worth noting that some physical effects may stem from treatment rather than the condition.
The authors urge early intervention to enhance treatment outcomes, along with educating people in ways to minimize the development of associated physical conditions.
Bipolar disorder involves both manic and depressive episodes.
Signs of a manic episode include:
- intense feelings of:
- excessive energy
- being unusually talkative or speaking fast
- doing uncharacteristic or impulsive things, such as spending a lot of money
- appearing atypically wired or jumpy
- restlessness or insomnia
- jumbled or racing thoughts
- inflated self-esteem
- increased irritability and agitation
A person may sometimes have hypomania, a milder form of mania.
Signs of a depressive episode include:
- feelings of:
- tiredness or low energy
- sleep changes, such as sleeping too little or too much
- thoughts of death, suicide, or both
- a lack of interest in activities
- difficulty concentrating
- appetite changes, such as eating too little or too much
Learn more about bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition.
Treatment options include:
- other interventions
Effective treatment typically involves a combination of medications and psychotherapy.
People may need to try different medications before they and their doctor determine which works best.
Learn more about medications for bipolar disorder.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, refers to techniques that aim to help someone identify and adapt certain thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. It can help people with bipolar disorder with symptom management.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that can help treat depression. CBT that focuses on insomnia may be particularly beneficial for people experiencing issues falling or staying asleep.
Other types of psychotherapy may include family-focused therapy, which helps families learn skills around communicating and resolving conflicts, or interpersonal and social rhythm therapy, which
Other forms of treatment include:
- Electroconvulsive therapy: This brain-stimulation procedure may help reduce severe symptoms of bipolar disorder if other treatments have not been effective.
- Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS): This method of brain stimulation uses magnetic waves to decrease depression. rTMS has a low risk of causing adverse effects on thinking and memory.
- Light therapy: This is the best treatment for seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is a worsening of depression in winter. Many individuals with bipolar disorder experience SAD.
Episodes of mania and depression
Between episodes, many people do not have mood changes. However, some experience lingering symptoms. Continuous treatment can help with symptom management.
Despite the potential for effective symptom management, some research suggests bipolar disorder may reduce life expectancy compared with the general population.
However, long-term, ongoing treatment
People with bipolar and their loved ones can access support resources through the following organizations:
- The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance: This group can help people locate a support group in their area.
- The National Alliance on Mental Health: This organization offers peer-led support groups.
- The International Bipolar Foundation: This group provides educational articles, videos, and resources on various topics.
Bipolar disorder resources
Visit our dedicated hub for more research-backed information and in-depth resources on bipolar disorder.
Untreated bipolar disorder can have a wide range of effects on a person’s life. Without treatment, the condition usually becomes more severe. As well as affecting mental and physical health, it can lead to challenges in relationships and at work or school.
Signs of untreated manic episodes include insomnia, speaking more quickly than usual, and feelings of euphoria. Symptoms of untreated depression include indecisiveness, feelings of hopelessness, and thoughts of suicide.
Effective treatment frequently consists of medications and psychotherapy. However, other options, such as brain stimulation procedures, are available.
Research suggests the condition may reduce a person’s lifespan by 13 years. However, continuous treatment can help people manage their symptoms and live a full, long life.