Mental Illnesses Aren't Adjectives: Bipolar Disorder

Hi! If you’re new here, thank you so much for taking time out of your day to help reduce the stigma surrounding mental health This post is part of a series called “Mental Illnesses Aren’t Adjectives,” so if you haven’t read my introductory post, click here to do so. The first installment, which talks about OCD, can be read here. If you have already read those posts, let’s jump right into it!

“You’re being so bipolar.”

“This weather is seriously bipolar.”

These Expressions vs. What Bipolar Disorder Really Is

Bipolar disorder causes people to go through periods of mania and periods of depression. Mania is a state where the person is very hyper. This might sound appealing at first glance, but it isn’t a normal upbeat mood. When someone is in mania, they tend to get more reckless, make impulse decisions, and take risks they usually wouldn’t. This could range from making small impulse decisions, like buying a new necklace at the store that you don’t need, or something that can truly derail someone’s life, like quitting your job. Whereas someone would usually recognize the danger in their actions, mania takes that ability to make rational decisions away.

Depression has many symptoms. Hopelessness and sadness are well-known symptoms. Many people also experience difficulty concentrating, severe fatigue, poor or increased appetite, and insomnia.

There are four types of bipolar disorder. The difference in the types has to do with variables like how long someone is typically in mania vs. depression, how fast they cycle through these states, and how severe their mania gets. Many people who experience short or less severe instances of mania are actually misdiagnosed as just having depression. This can be devastating. While bipolar disorder can be really well managed with proper treatment, the medications for bipolar disorder and depression are very different, so taking an antidepressant will often not help symptoms.

When people use the word “bipolar” to describe the way they quickly change their mind, unpredictable weather patterns, or a sudden change in a person’s attitude, this diminishes the actual meaning of the disorder. Now, you might be thinking that this issue isn’t as clear cut as the misuse of OCD. The latter phrase is directly using the full illness’ name. “Bipolar” is technically a word on its own. But when you hear others use the world bipolar, or use it yourself, are you thinking of the actual dictionary definition? Most people aren’t.

Mania is already very misunderstood by the general population. People think of someone who is completely out of control, or someone who is simply extra happy. Many people don’t realize that bipolar disorder consists of high highs and low lows. It is a grave injustice to reduce the gravity of this disorder to trivial matters like quickly changing weather.

What to Say Instead

There are many non-stigmatizing phrases that can replace the ones mentioned above. If you’re changing your mind a lot, simply say so. If the weather is going haywire, try saying things like, “This weather is so unpredictable!” If you live in Tennessee like I do, where the weather never stays the same for long, there are probably a million terms directly related to the state that you can use. “That’s Tennessee weather for you,” is one that I use weekly!

Want to Learn More?

If you are interested in the symptoms and treatment of this disorder, want to learn more about mania vs. depression, or are curious about the different types of bipolar disorder, I recommend this Nami article.