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5 Triggers of Depression in Bipolar Disorder

DepressionTriggers1Bipolar disorder patients spend their lives moving through three phases- mania, depression and time between episodes. Once a person experiences one episode, there is a 75% chance they will experience another within five years. There are some cases in which the person with bipolar disorder can avoid situations that could possibly trigger episodes, although most of these episodes are inevitable. That’s just the nature of the illness. These circumstances are not the same for everyone, but here are five common situations that can trigger depression in people with bipolar disorder.

1 Stressful life events
Life events can vary in the amount of stress they cause and the type of stress they cause. Stress is not always bad, but still takes a toll. Here are examples of stressful life events that may lead to depression: loss of a spouse or other loved one, a negative shift in a relationship (with or without ending the relationship), assault, substantial financial loss and losing a job.

2 General stress
While stressful life events occur all at once (though obviously with residual effects), general stress can last over long periods of time. This type of stress wreaks havoc on the body and mind. Hormones like cortisol are released to help the body deal with stress, but when this reaction occurs over long periods of time it can create chemical imbalances and physical changes in the brain that can then trigger mood changes.

3 Sleep deprivation
Maintaining a normal circadian rhythm is difficult for people with bipolar disorder and getting regular sleep is an important part of that maintenance. Lack of sleep can cause multiple cognitive problems including difficulty concentrating, slow thinking, problems making decisions and problems with memory. Sleep deprivation also increases risk for suicide.

4 Physical injury or illness
There are two ways in which depression can appear in people with physical injuries or illnesses. The first is related to vulnerability. The person who is injured or unhealthy may begin to feel a sense of purposelessness and hopelessness depending on the severity of the situation. Both of these are symptoms of depression. Illnesses and injuries can also cause considerable psychological pain as well as physical pain, especially when chronic. This puts a considerable amount of stress on the body, which, again, can lead to depression.

5 Decreases in physical activity
Exercise has specific benefits for people with bipolar disorder. First, it provides physical benefits helping to stave off heart disease and metabolic disorder, which are common in people with bipolar disorder. Staying physically active can also release neurochemicals that help treat depressive symptoms. When the physical activity stops, those neurotransmitters and endorphins aren’t being produced as much, which can cause a dip in mood or even trigger depression.


These are only a few of the triggers that can lead to depressive episodes in people with bipolar disorder. It’s important to be aware of them in case they turn out to be personally deleterious. If a depressive episode occurs or has been triggered, contacting a mental health professional is usually the best course of action.



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Image credit: Dan Misener

5 Triggers of Depression in Bipolar Disorder

LaRae LaBouff

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APA Reference
LaBouff, L. (2016). 5 Triggers of Depression in Bipolar Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 6, 2020, from


Last updated: 6 Dec 2016
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