Bipolar Disorder in Women

Bipolar disorder, a mood disorder in which sufferers cycle between manic and depressive states, affects 2.6 percent of the adult population in the United States. While men and women are equally affected, the illness manifests differently across the sexes.

Compared with men, women with the disorder are more likely to experience depressive episodes, mixed states–in which manic and depressive symptoms occur at the same time–and rapid cycling. Rapid cycling is the occurrence of four or more mood episodes in an annual period. Around three times as many women as men experience rapid cycling. Women are also more likely to be diagnosed with bipolar II, which has depressive and hypomanic–which are less intense than manic–episodes. Research demonstrates that thyroid imbalances may play a part in these differences, which, again, are more common in women than men.


Credit to user Mical Koralewski. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Bipolar disorder often develops later in women than men, who are often diagnosed around age 25. Women are often misdiagnosed with unipolar depression, and men are often misdiagnosed with schizophrenia. Anxiety is often comorbid with diagnoses of bipolar disorder in women rather than men, and eating disorders are more likely to appear during depressive episodes of women’s than men’s. Men are shown to have higher rates of substance abuse and gambling addiction than women.

Symptoms of bipolar disorder worsen during perimenopause, menopause, and after childbirth–all linked to fluctuating levels of estrogen and other hormones. Women with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) have a greater risk of developing bipolar I. Fifty percent of women with bipolar disorder will experience a mood episode within four weeks after childbirth. About twenty-five percent will go through postpartum psychosis, and a further twenty-five percent will suffer from postpartum depression.

Women and men are very different in the ways in which their bipolar disorder manifests. The menstrual cycle and its hormones plays a part in the worsening of symptoms. Women’s comorbid disorders necessitate different treatments than men.


About Cassandra Stout

Freelance writer Cassandra Stout blogs at the award-winning Bipolar Parent, a comprehensive resource for parents with mental illnesses. Cassandra holds degrees from the University of Arizona in Creative Writing and Journalism. She has been a judge for the Pacific Northwest Writers' Association literary contest for nine years, where her memoir, Committed, recently placed as a finalist. She balances her literary work with raising her children, feeding her cat, and managing her bipolar disorder.
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12 Responses to Bipolar Disorder in Women

  1. dyane says:

    ***Great post***, Cass – I retweeted it & Postpartum Post shared it in today’s edition.

    Also, there’s bipolar, peripartum onset (postpartum bipolar) I know I’ve been driving everyone up the way with the retweets of this article I wrote about it, but I thought I’d share the link here just in case…hope you don’t mind!

    • Dear Dyane,
      Thanks so much for the retweets! I really appreciate that, and your comments, too! That article is beautiful. What a harrowing story! I’m glad you’ve rallied enough to write a stirring piece to raise awareness. Thank you for sharing, and I’m so glad bp magazine came to their senses!

  2. ckj261281 says:

    Great article x

  3. Cogitator says:

    I really liked this no nonsense piece. And I learnt something (after thinking I knew everything).

    • Thank you so much! I really appreciate your thoughtful comments. I’d like to think of myself as a no nonsense writer, so that warms my heart. I’m so glad you learned something, too!

  4. markmhamann says:

    give thanks you so much! Great clause x

  5. This is a big help and makes sense to me. My mother is bipolar and extreme difficult. I feel like looking back more of my life makes sense. 😜

  6. arsenios says:

    I’m beaming that the Post helps and makes sense to you! I’m so beaming you learned something, too!

  7. Pingback: Men and Women Differ When it Comes to Bipolar Biomarkers | The Bipolar Parent

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