Mental Health

What does Bipolar really mean?

bipolar Posted On
Posted By Alex Perez - Mental Health Writer, B.A.

Reviewed by Nancy Diaz, MSW. Updated on April 26, 2021

You may have heard of the mental health condition: Bipolar disorder.

Or maybe you’ve heard someone say, “Oh, she’s bipolar” to describe someone who has been having mood swings. 

However, being bipolar is more than just an adjective for someone who seems happy one minute and upset the next.

Bipolar disorder is a serious mental health condition that should not be taken lightly.

Literally, the word “bipolar” has two parts. The prefix “bi-” means two and the word “polar” refers to extreme ends of a range that are opposite in nature.

Someone with bipolar disorder experiences strong emotions in the range of extreme happiness to extreme sadness. The episodes of happiness are called “Manic” and the episodes of intense sadness are called “depression.” Someone living with bipolar disorder could also experience hypomania.

It is normal to feel sad sometimes and happy other times. However, someone who is bipolar experiences intense symptoms that interrupt their daily life and can be detrimental to healthy interpersonal relationships. People with bipolar disorder have a hard time regulating their emotions during each episode and cannot simply “be positive” during depression episodes or “calm down” during manic episodes.

What are Manic episodes like for someone living with Bipolar disorder?

bipolar manic

Manic episodes occur when someone living with bipolar disorder experiences extreme happiness.

Some symptoms of a manic episode include:

● Feeling invincible
● Inflated ego and confidence
● Restlessness or easily distracted
● Impulsive behavior- such as spending a large amount of money, gambling excessively, or hypersexuality
● Excessively Talkative

& Psychosis-which may include hallucinations or delusions and detachment from reality

What are Depressive episodes like for someone living with Bipolar disorder?

bipolar depressive

Depressive episodes are when someone with bipolar disorder feels extreme sadness.

Symptoms for someone with bipolar disorder would include:

● Feeling hopeless
● Increase in sleep and fatigue
● Thoughts of self-harm
● Suicidal tendencies
● Wanting isolation
● Avoiding friends, family, or social situations

What do Hypomanic episodes look like for someone living with bipolar disorder?

Hypomania is similar to mania but is often more subtle and mild. While it can come with a euphoric mood, it will also bring erratic and unhealthy behavior.

● Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity
● Abnormal happiness without reason
● Reduced need for sleep without feeling tired
● Unusual talkativeness or pressure to keep talking
● Racing thoughts
● Increased distractibility
● Excessive participation in activities
● Agitation or irritability

Types of Bipolar Disorder

There are several types of bipolar disorder depending on:

● How often one experiences manic and depressive episodes
● How long the episodes occur
● The intensity of each episode

Mental health professionals make a diagnosis based on how often someone experiences manic or depressive episodes over a period of time, such as a year, or how intense the manic episodes are compared to one’s depression. There are three different types of bipolar disorder types listed below. It’s important to keep in mind that bipolar disorder could also refer to one not otherwise specified due to it presenting as depressive and hypomanic-like symptoms that do not meet the diagnostic criteria for the bipolar disorder types below:

Bipolar Disorder Type I


Type 1 is characterized by both manic and depressive episodes and can be diagnosed after just one manic episode.

Bipolar Disorder Type II


Type 2 is characterized by depressive and hypomanic episodes.

Cyclothymic Disorder


This disorder is characterized by hypomanic and depressive symptoms which do not meet the criteria for depressive episodes.

Natural Treatments of Bipolar Disorder

bipolar natural treatments

Treatment of Bipolar Disorder usually involves a combination of lifestyle changes and psychotherapy. Intense intervention is needed for people living with severe bipolar disorder symptoms so that impulsive feelings are not acted upon during manic episodes and self-harm behaviors are not committed during depressive episodes.

Therapy for people living with bipolar disorder can include family psychoeducation and family-focused therapy. Family is an important support system for people with bipolar disorder and having correct psychoeducation can help those with bipolar manage symptoms more successfully.

Treatments can also include group therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy to help people living with bipolar disorder find support and understand their cognitive processes.

The meaning of Bipolar

“Being Bipolar” is more than just when someone is being moody, irritable, or upset for a short period of time. Though you may hear the term used lightly, living with bipolar disorder refers to someone who experiences episodes of manic and depression. It is a serious mental health condition and there is help for those who are living with bipolar disorder.

What do you do to keep well if you have bipolar disorder?
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Please let us know in the comment section!x

If you believe you may have bipolar disorder, you can contact a mental health professional: Nancy Diaz


Helpguide.org: Bipolar Disorder, Signs and Symptoms

Nami.org: Different Types of Therapy for Bipolar Disorder

MayoClinic.org: Bipolar Disorder

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