The Effect of PTSD on People With Bipolar Disorder

Depressed woman sitting near the window
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Within the U.S., approximately 4% of adults will have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder at some point in their lives. What is bipolar disorder? Bipolar disorder is considered a mood disorder. There are two types of bipolar disorders, described as bipolar I and bipolar II.

In bipolar I disorder, a person has experienced one or more manic episodes. In most cases of bipolar I, episodes of major depression are a central aspect of the overall course of the illness.

In bipolar II disorder, hypomanic episodes have been experienced but not manic episodes. In addition, to be diagnosed with bipolar II disorder, a person needs to have also experienced a major depressive episode

Bipolar disorder can have a major impact on your life; and it can also increase the risk that you develop other disorders.

In fact, people with bipolar disorder have been found to be at high risk for developing a number of other mental health disorders. One such disorder that co-occurs with bipolar disorder at high rates is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Bipolar Disorder and PTSD

A review published in 2017 concluded that up to 40% of people with bipolar disorder also meet criteria for PTSD. It is not entirely surprising that high rates of PTSD are found among people with bipolar disorder, as many people with bipolar also have a history of traumatic exposure.

Traumatic exposure may be more likely to occur during a manic episode when a person with bipolar disorder is more likely to make risky or impulsive decisions.

In addition to being a risk factor for the development of PTSD, traumatic exposure during childhood, such as childhood physical or sexual abuse, may also be risk factors for the development of bipolar disorder.

Impact of PTSD on Bipolar Disorder

Having PTSD along with bipolar disorder can have a major negative impact on your life. People with PTSD and bipolar disorder appear to have more problems across a number of different areas in their lives.

For example, PTSD has been found to worsen the quality of life for people with bipolar disorder. A 2010 study found that patients with co-occurring bipolar disorder and PTSD experienced more rapid cycling periods and increased risk for suicide attempts.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Finally, PTSD has also been found to be associated with greater levels of depression among people with bipolar disorder, according to a 2013 study.

How to Find Help

If you have PTSD and bipolar disorder, it is very important to take steps to manage both conditions. There are a number of healthy coping strategies for managing your symptoms as well as effective treatments for bipolar disorder and PTSD. Check websites to help you find treatment providers in your area who specialize in PTSD and/or bipolar disorder.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th ed. Washington D.C.: 2013.

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By Matthew Tull, PhD
Matthew Tull, PhD is a professor of psychology at the University of Toledo, specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder.