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What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is something we always hear about, but what exactly is it? Like most mental health issues, it is not easily defined. We could write a book or a series of books and not fully touch on what it is or what it means to be bipolar. The Oxford English Dictionary defines bipolar disorder as “a form of mental illness characterized by one or more episodes of mania typically accompanied by one or more episodes of major depression.” Anyone who suffers from this disorder knows that a dictionary definition does not even begin to scratch the surface of what it truly means to be bipolar. The DSM-5, an authoritative guide in the behavioral science world released by the American Psychiatric Association, separates bipolar disorder into several subcategories, including, "Bipolar I Disorder,” “Bipolar II Disorder,” and “Cyclothymic Disorder.” What defines each of these subcategories can be based on a number of things like the degree of the manic state and what causes the bipolar disorder in the first place. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), similarities between bipolar disorder and other mental health issues can sometimes make it hard to diagnose or even lead to a misdiagnosis. However, a person can also have issues that co-occur with bipolar disorder, like ADHD (NIMH, 2016). And while it is most commonly passed down genetically, being the child of someone with bipolar disorder doesn’t guarantee you will have it. While there are some studies that prove what actually happens in the brain of someone that is bipolar, there is still a lot to learn about. This makes proper diagnosis and proper care important. If treated carefully, using a mixture of medications and therapy, those with bipolar disorder have a better chance to control their mood swings and reduce symptoms. It's also important to note that while the DSM-5 and other resources that help identify various mental health conditions can be fantastic,do not try to diagnose yourself. If you feel you have bipolar disorder or symptoms of it, please seek the help of a medical professional.


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing. Bipolar Disorder. (2006) In OED Online. Retrieved from National Institute of Mental Health. (2016). Bipolar Disorder. Retrieved from

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