While bipolar disorder can affect anyone, some symptoms tend to show up differently in men and women.
We all experience mood changes, but those with bipolar disorder experience extreme shifts in mood that can significantly interfere with their day-to-day lives.
Bipolar disorder appears to likely occur equally in men and women. However, there are some differences in how the condition affects people of different genders.
The words “women” and “men” are used throughout this article to reflect the terms used within the studies. We recognize that these terms have also historically been used to confine people to a gender binary.
To acknowledge that peoples’ experience of mental health disorders is often influenced by societal expectation and pressure, we also use the terms “masculine” and “masculine-identified” to include those not assigned male at birth but are still subject to the expectations of masculinity.
The symptoms of bipolar disorder are different for everyone, and they vary between people regardless of gender identity. That said, there are some differences in symptoms between men and women.
There are three types of bipolar disorder, each with a different set of diagnostic criteria:
- bipolar I disorder
- bipolar II disorder
- cyclothymic disorder
During a manic or hypomanic episode, you may have feelings of euphoria, boundless energy, rapid speech, and you may feel as if you don’t need to sleep.
During a depressive episode, you may have feelings of worthlessness, extreme sadness, and a lack of energy.
The symptoms of depression in men and women tend to differ. According to the
It’s not that men don’t experience sadness — they may feel a lot of sadness, but they may not express it as such, because it’s less socially acceptable for men to display sadness.
Other signs of depressive episodes in men include fatigue, difficulty sleeping, and a loss of interest in hobbies, work, or personal life.
The symptoms of mania may be overlooked in men, too, and mislabeled as confidence or self-assuredness.
Men also face a societal expectation about sleep, with 2020 research suggesting that sleeping less is perceived as more masculine and society favoring men who sleep less. Because of this, some people may miss signs of sleeplessness related to bipolar disorder.
Many symptoms of bipolar disorder are rooted in emotion. In some societies, there is a social expectation that men shouldn’t talk about their emotions, which can lead to lower rates of diagnosis and treatment for mental health issues in men and masculine folks.
These societal expectations can make it harder for men and masculine people to open up to friends and gain peer support, or to contact mental health professionals and receive treatment.
In addition, some medical professionals may hold biases about emotionality in men, which
The expectation that men mask their emotions is often spoken about in the context of harmful or toxic masculinity, which can have negative mental health effects for both the person affected and those around them.
According to the
When untreated, bipolar disorder can affect all aspects of your life, including how well you’re able to show up at work and in your relationships. Some of the challenges that come with living with bipolar disorder are different for men and women.
During depressive episodes, you might find it difficult to be productive, lose motivation to engage with your work and home life, or find yourself sleeping a lot.
And during manic or hypomanic episodes, you might stay up late, making lots of plans that you’re not able to keep or spend more money than your budget allows.
In some cases, you might notice these patterns in the back of your mind, but you might not realize that you’re dealing with a mental health condition.
The first step to feeling better is often to get an accurate diagnosis so that you can find the most appropriate treatments and self-care.
Howard says, “Because men are not expected to be emotional, we’re also not expected to empathize with emotional issues, like mental illness. By speaking up, I made an impact because I showed my own vulnerability as a man, and then I used that platform to illustrate the harm they were doing.
“We, as men, have a certain power in the fact that society underestimates our emotional depths. When we display those depths, we capture people’s attention, and this gives us the opportunity to bring about change. Don’t be afraid to open up.”
A.S. Minor, 32, a Floridian who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2010, speaks about the expectations of men and their emotions.
In an interview with Psych Central, Minor said, “This stigma is decreasing over time. It’s not perfect, and it may well always be a difficult topic for men specifically. That doesn’t mean we’re not making progress, though. But that requires men speaking up, and normalizing emotional fluidity for us. The more we open up, the less strange it seems.”
Both Howard and Minor are advocates for bipolar disorder awareness and ending the stigma surrounding how men should navigate it. Minor writes spoken word and does public speaking, and Howard uses his experiences to fuel his creative work.
Howard said, “My entire career — speaking, writing, podcasting — is owed to my experiences with bipolar disorder… I’ve met wonderful people through advocacy, and I’ve been able to help people when they needed it, and that made me feel good.”
For those in relationship with men or masculine people, whether it is a friendship, romantic, or otherwise, it’s easy to feel unsure of how to support your loved one with their symptoms.
It’s important to keep open lines of communication. A good first step would be to have a conversation about the ways that they would like you to check in with them, and about what doesn’t work for you both. It can help to spend some time working out the best ways to communicate with one another.
Here are some suggestions for supporting someone who is navigating bipolar disorder:
- Offer reassurance. Remind them that you are there for them and that you care, even during the difficult moments.
- Encourage and support routines. Establishing a daily routine can help people manage their symptoms. Consider offering to support them in getting enough sleep or eating a nutritious diet.
- Help them create a safety plan. When you’re with someone who has bipolar disorder, there are good moments, but episodes are going to occur. It’s best to plan ahead and discuss how best to handle them. This might include writing down important phone numbers and keeping a list of medications.
- Do some research. It can be very empowering to find out more about bipolar disorder. You might consider reading articles, listening to podcasts, watching videos, or joining a support group. There are many sources of information online where you can learn how to best support them and yourself, including the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance and the National Alliance on Mental Health.
The treatment options for bipolar disorder are similar for people of all genders. There is no one-size-fits all remedy, as each person comes with individual needs and lived experiences.
Medication is an important first step for successful treatment. Your mental health professional may also recommend psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), along with a combination of self-led strategies to keep you on top of your routines and medications.
“The best coping skill is the one that works for you. The best treatment is the one that works for you. The best path forward with bipolar is the path that allows you to live your best life. Don’t let someone’s idea of what it means to be “manly” get in the way of your happiness,” Howard says.
“In reality, we all have rich emotional experiences, even if we are not always given the space to express or share them. Regardless of your gender identity, there are several ways that you can seek support if you have symptoms of bipolar disorder. Emotionality, no matter how strong, does not equate to weakness.”
Howard goes on to say, “Much of the information we’ve been given about being a man is simply garbage. There is no ‘right way’ to be a man. Do what is best for you when it comes to treating this disorder.”
Grappling with a potential bipolar disorder diagnosis can take some time, but know that you are not alone. While this is a condition that ranges in severity, many adults navigate full and healthy lives with bipolar disorder.
If you are interested in learning more but want to do some research before making an appointment, there are plenty of resources available for perusal, including specific coverage on the symptoms of bipolar disorder in men.
There are also options to seek out therapists in your area based on your insurance coverage and personal preferences. Support groups, like those offered by the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, are also a great way to receive support for not only professionals but others who can identify with you.