Thursday, May 12, 2011

I'm so moody I must be Bipolar

**Warning: very boring material ahead about mental illness and Bipolar Disorder. Do not read if you are tired, as you may fall asleep with boredom.**

Contrary to popular belief, just because someone is moody doesn't not mean they suffer from Bipolar Disorder. I think know that our society is quick to judge others and put labels on them to better explain why they behave a certain way. Why do we feel that naming a behavior makes it better or more understandable?

Working in the mental health field I am more sensitive to other's throwing diagnoses around and jumping to diagnose others or even themselves. I find that Bipolar Disorder is one of the most common ones that people use, and they often don't even understand what the disorder is. So in that case, I thought I would better explain what Bipolar Disorder is so that you can now feel the pain and understanding I have when people label others Bipolar without really knowing what it is!

Bipolar actually means having two poles. The two poles being the 2 sides of the disorder: depression and mania (or hypomania). So, one with the diagnosis of Bipolar disorder actually has periods of time when they go through depression, and other periods of time when they go through mania.  There is usually periods in between when they feel absolutely fine and have neither depression or mania. The depression is more common, lasts longer, and tends to be more frequent, and you only have to have had 1 period of mania to have the diagnosis. So, for example, someone with Bipolar Disorder may be depressed for months at a time, come out of the depression and be fine, go back into depression a few months later, be fine, and then have a week of mania. It doesn't have to always be in the order of depression-mania-depression.

Depression is just what you think it is, clinical depression. Signs and symptoms of this are sad mood, lack of energy, anhedonia--which means you don't get pleasure out of activities and things you once did, changes in sleep and eating (insomnia, or sleeping too much, loss/increase of appetite), feelings of hopelessness, irritability, fatigue, and even recurrent thoughts of death. If somone experiences this with no history of mania, they probably just have depression. If they have this and have also experience symptoms of mania (never at the same time), they may have Bipolar Disorder.

What the heck is mania?? You ask. Mania (or hypomania) is a period of time that usually lasts about 1 week when someone experiences inflated self-esteem or grandiosity (feeling that they are someone more important than they really are- i.e. "I am the president"), decreased need for sleep, racing thoughts and speech, distractability, engaging in risky behaviors that you may not do normally do (spending tons of money, sleeping with strangers, etc), and increase in goal directed behavior. I once had a patient who became manic and thought it was a great idea to make baskets for friends and family with teddy bears. She ran out and bought tons of teddy bears, and as what is most likely due to the short time of the manic episode, didn't complete them at all. She said to me "I have hundreds of teddy bears in my spare bedroom. What the heck am I gonna do with them?" Hypomania is similar, just lasts a little shorter, usually 4 days and the symptoms are the same just less severe.

Now, here is the tricky part my friends. There is something that is more specific in the diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder which I believe may be where people get the idea that someone who is moody is Bipolar. There is a mixed episode which someone who has been diagnosed Bipolar may experience. Mixed episode lasts at least 1 week and it is when the person meets criteria for depressed episode and manic episode. So they cycle between depressed and manic, rapidly changing moods.

I think that this is why people believe that other's who are moody may have Bipolar Disorder, because of the mixed episodes. But the truth is, just because someone changes emotions quickly does not mean they have a mental illness. There has to be many of these symptoms of both depression and mania that I listed, and that still may not mean they have Bipolar Disorder.

So now, go out knowing you are now educated about this illness and correct someone if you feel they are jumping to diagnose others or throwing around the term 'Bipolar' ignorantly! You know the truth!


  1. Good for you! I always dislike when people throw around "real" terms in such a slang manner.

    Also, I have a fun giveaway on my blog, you should come enter! The original post and comments were lost, so I'm asking everyone to make sure they enter again!

  2. YES! I'm totally with you! I work in the mental health field as well, and this has always been a pet peeve of mine. I also dislike when people throw around being "OCD" just because they're particular about certain things.