How to Talk about Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mental health disorder that is frequently misunderstood. This is in part due to the common use of its dictionary definition as an adjective: having or relating to two poles or extremities. While the definition of the adjective “bipolar” is applicable to bipolar disorder (the noun), the two are not one in the same.

Bipolar disorder, as the name suggests, is characterized by shifts between two opposing moods. These moods, however, are not just any two emotional extremes: Bipolar disorder is specifically an alternation between mania and depression, both of which are disorders on their own. When people with bipolar disorder experience mania, their energy is high, their thoughts are racing and overly idealistic, and their demeanor appears “happy.” When they experience depression, their energy becomes low, they may seem hopeless, and their disposition seems sad. 

Knowing your terminology will help you better understand the nuances of mental health disorders. Even more importantly, this knowledge can inspire you to encourage your friends and family to use other, less-stigmatizing language.

If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms that might be consistent with bipolar disorder, head to this link to take a free, brief online screening and discover treatment close to you.


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