Ever Wonder What Bipolar Disorder Really Is? Here’s Your Answer, Straight From a Doctor



Mental illness is much more complicated than physical illness; after all, when the disorder is in your brain, there aren’t any physical symptoms or blood tests you can run to reach a proper diagnosis. And while the conversation surrounding mental illness is growing, slowly etching away the negative stigma, mental disorders are still widely misunderstood — chief among them being bipolar disorder.

Because the prefix “bi” means two, many people wrongly associated bipolar disorder with split personality disorder, or Dissociative Identity Disorder. In reality, bipolar disorder, previously called manic depression, is defined as a mix of depressed and manic moods.

“Bipolar disorders are conditions of significant, persistent, and pervasive mood fluctuation,” Pierre Azzam, MD, assistant professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, told POPSUGAR. There are several bipolar disorders, and he says bipolar disorder can be viewed as an umbrella term for several different diagnoses. “Each mood episode can occur on a spectrum of severity, duration, and clinical features.”

The types of bipolar disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, include: bipolar I disorder, bipolar II disorder, cyclothymic disorder, and other specified and unspecified bipolar and related disorders.

How Bipolar Disorder Is Diagnosed

To be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a patient must meet the criteria for mania or hypomania, plus the intermittent experience of major depression, Dr. Azzam said. Mania and hypomania are characterized by an elevated mood plus three of the following, or persistently irritable mood plus four of the following:

  • Distractibility, difficulty paying attention

  • Agitation or irritable behaviors

  • Grandiose ideas or elevated self-esteem

  • Racing thoughts

  • Activities that are indiscriminate (spending sprees, risky sex, etc.)

  • Decreased need for sleep, hyperproductivity

  • Excessive speech

Mania typically lasts seven or more days,


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