Do My Constant Feelings of Irritability Mean I Have Bipolar Disorder?

ADHD vs Bipolar
Female patient that is experiencing manic episodes and irritability.

Do you ever have a day where you just want to snap at everyone you see? I get it.

Albert Hernandez

November 8, 2021
 Medically Reviewed by Tanya Hernandez, PMHNP-BC
Updated on: October 20, 2022
  6 min read

November 8, 2021
 Medically Reviewed by Tanya Hernandez, PMHNP-BC
Updated on: October 20, 2022
  6 min read


Do you ever have a day where you just want to snap at everyone you see? I get it. Whether you’ve been dealing with the baking heat of the El Paso sun, you’re feeling crowded by the newcomers who are moving into your home city of Albuquerque, or you’re annoyed at the UTEP’s latest loss, life’s challenges can make any of us angry from time to time.

Sometimes, however, you experience more than being mad “at times.” What if what you feel is more consistent anger or irritability? I have had patients say to me, “I’m irritable all of the time; could I be bipolar?”

Well, it’s possible. But probably not.

Bipolar disorder is more than irritability at times. Bipolar is commonly thought of as intense mood swings, but even this doesn't necessarily indicate bipolar disorder.

Other health conditions can cause mood swings; therefore, for a person to be diagnosed as having bipolar disorder, he or she must have experienced mania. 

What is Bipolar Disorder? 

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), “To be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a person must have experienced at least one episode of mania or hypomania.” People with Bipolar I disorder have experienced full mania, rather than hypomania. There are other categories of bipolar disorder, like Bipolar II disorder, in which the person has experienced a hypomanic episode instead. Hypomania is less intense than full mania. You might have thought of bipolar disorder as a person having mood swings or moving between depression and being “up," but the manic episode is the unique characteristic of bipolar disorder.

People who have been diagnosed with Bipolar I disorder generally experience episodes of depression. The depression that people with bipolar disorder experience may be more complex to treat than if a person had a diagnosis of depression alone. Regardless of what a person’s depression symptoms are, the diagnosis of bipolar disorder depends on having had an episode of mania. 

Mania is a collection of specific symptoms. People who are experiencing mania feel important, full of energy, and like they have tons of profound plans that other people can’t understand.  They can also feel agitated and jumpy. What this can look like is: 

  • Outlandish Career Ambitions: Setting your sights on a completely different job that you have no training or background in, like a person who has been working as an accountant but believes they should switch to being a Navy SEAL.
  • Increased Sexual Promiscuity: Having sex with multiple partner when this is not the norm for you.
  • Impulsive/Extravagant Spending: Dropping thousands in one sitting on a Rolex, or Birkin bag, whether you can truly afford it or not. Or buying a first-class plane ticket to Las Vegas when you don’t have any vacation days scheduled or budgeted for. 
  • Not Sleeping for Days at a Time: When experiencing a manic episode, a person may feel so wired that they can’t sleep.
  • Talking Excessively and/or Talking Extremely Fast: The racing thoughts and excessive energy that come with a manic episode can express themselves in pressured speech. 

Although people who are experiencing a manic episode can feel irritable, irritability on its own isn’t enough to be considered mania. To determine if you have experienced/are experiencing a manic episode, a mental health expert can meet with you and talk to you about your symptoms and history. 

If Bipolar Disorder Isn’t the Cause of My Feeling Irritable, What Is?

A concerned patient that is wandering whether she has Adult ADHD or bipolar disorder.

Although many people think of depression as feeling sad, all of the time, feelings of sadness and emptiness are only a few of the potential symptoms of depression. People with depression may also experience:

  • Trouble concentrating
  • Issues with memory
  • Sleeping too much or not being able to sleep well
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Feeling tired
  • Chronic, unexplained pain
  • Having lower energy levels

Depression can also make you feel mad/irritable. Sometimes my patients don’t recognize that they could be depressed, because they don't think of feeling angry as a symptom of depression. 

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can be another hidden cause of irritability. Many people think of ADHD as causing: 

  • Restlessness/inability to sit still
  • Trouble finishing tasks
  • Being forgetful
  • Losing important items
  • Talking too much

And it’s true that these are common ADHD symptoms. In adults, these symptoms can cause significant difficulty at work and in their personal relationships. Many adult ADHD patients come to our practice because the stress of trying to keep their career and/or marriage together is overwhelming them. They have to exert so much effort into staying organized that they are exhausted and irritable. To people who have never considered that their feeling of being overwhelmed is being caused by ADHD, an ADHD diagnosis can come as a surprise.

Where Should I Seek Treatment For My Anger?

A female patient that is experiencing irritability due to a lack of proper diagnosis and treatment.

If your irritability is impacting your life, it’s important to find out what is causing it. Bipolar disorder, ADHD, and depression are all medical conditions that originate in the brain. Although people can sometimes feel ashamed to ask for help, it’s essential to treat these health conditions with proper medication. If untreated, ADHD, bipolar disorder, and depression can cause compounding difficulties in your life. The stress of trying to manage uncontrolled symptoms of mental health disorders can negatively impact your relationships, your work, and your physical health. 

When you’re trying to determine if your anger is caused by depression, ADHD, bipolar disorder, or something else, a board-certified behavioral health expert is your best resource. Once you know the cause, you can get the treatment you need. An expert mental health provider who specializes in anxiety, ADHD, and depression treatment is positioned to help you understand what your diagnosis is and recommend the most effective medications. 

At Upper Valley Behavioral Health, our expert practitioners are able to see patients in and around El Paso, Las Cruces, Albuquerque, and other areas. You don’t have to cope with your symptoms alone. We want to help you deal with the root cause of your anger so that you can feel happier and more in control of your life. Click here to fill out our short application for treatment today. 

Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. It does not replace instructions from your licensed prescriber. Please consult your healthcare provider for guidance on your specific medication regimen.

Tags: bipolar, bipolar awareness, mental health, bipolar disorder awareness, bipolar support, bipolar depression, bipolar life, bipolar syndrome, mental health awareness, mental health matters

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