Thursday, 18 July 2013

Bipolar - The Extremes of Manic Depression

Bipolar, Depression, Mania, Mental Illness, Mental Health.


Adjective. Early 19th century.
[from BI- + POLAR adjective.]

1. Have two poles or opposite extremities. E19

2a specifically Of a nerve cell: having two axons, one either side of the cell body. M19

2b Of psychiatric illness: characterized by both manic and depressive episodes,
or manic ones only (in indiviual or family history). M20

3 Of or occurring in both polar regions. L19

(a) the state of having two poles
(b) the occurrence of the same species in each of the polar regions

Although the psychiatric definition originated in the mid-20th century, it does seem that the words bipolar and bipolar disorder have only entered the wider public consciousness relatively recently. Growing up, the term bipolar was completely unknown to me, whereas terms like manic depression and manic depressive were not.

Bipolar disorder is characterised by extreme fluctuations in mood between highs (mania) and lows (depression). Although often represented by the dramatic masks motif, commonly interpreted as 'happy' and 'sad' faces, bipolar disorder is much more severe than merely a cycling between feeling bright and cheerful one day and a bit down the next. The highs, for example, while sometimes associated with bursts of productivity and creativity, can also manifest themselves in extremely destructive behaviour, such as reckless spending or risk-taking. The lows can manifest themselves in a sense of hopelessness and worthlessness, perhaps even suicidal thoughts and self-harm. Both extremes of bipolar can have a severely detrimental effect on one's life, career and relationships.

Bipolar disorder is surprisingly common, with some sources giving the figures of 1% of the population having bipolar, and 4% experiencing some of the characteristic symptoms at some point in their life. Various celebrities with bipolar have also done much to boost public awareness of the condition, including Stephen Fry, Russel Brand, Frank Bruno and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Sadly, despite this growing awareness, ignorance and stigma toward bipolar remain, as it does toward all mental illness, including the perception that people with bipolar (and depression) should just "get over it", and confusing bipolar with very separate illnesses like schizophrenia. In researching bipolar, I particularly liked Abigail Southworth's picture, shown below, that well-illustrates both the disruptive nature of bipolar, and the sense of being 'caught in the middle' of various negative stereotypes and misconceptions.  On a positive note, the growing awareness of bipolar, as with all mental health matters, should do much to continue breaking down ignorance toward it, just as medical treatment and research continue to improve.

Mental health, Mania, Depression, Stereotype, Misconception, Prejudice,
By Abigail Southworth


  1. I probably broke my foot playing soccer last night. It's noticeable, everyone around me, family, friends and customers etc are patiently making allowances, it will stop hurting soon, and I know what to do and where to go if it doesn't.

    Unfortunately someone with a painful and broken mind doesn't always have the same reassurances. Abigail's picture illustrates that wonderfully.


    1. Eek! Sorry to hear about your foot. If it means you can't comment as much in the coming weeks, you know I'll understand, right? Allowances will be made, C.

      Oh yeah ... you're right!

  2. Completely agree with your comments Ed.
    The generalisation of, oh look at that idiot,retard, spastic etc... Is redundant itself.
    People wit no respect or knowledge of how people are effected with with mental illness is still a massive problem,
    However the awareness of the issue is a lot better these days.... A long way to go though.

    Enjoyed the interview with Sir Stephen Fry.
    Love the chap, he's a fighting example of this kind of illness, and my hat is off!


  3. Sorry for the with with.... Electronic stutter? Yeah I'll go for that one

    1. Pff. You should have seen my post yesterday - I think I found about ten typos when I re-read it *after* publishing; I *did not* impress myself that day! : o )

  4. You said smurfette-bibi gave you a scare? Well, the bottom illustration scared me! Horrible horrible image...

    Just like you, I didn't grow up with the term "bipolar". People said - they still do - "manic depressive". I don't know which one describes the illness best. "Manic depressive" might be a bit too black and white, although "bipolar" doesn't really reference to the range of emotions that come with the illness either.

    It's weird how, when people suffer from things that concern the mind, it's not-done to talk about it. As if how you feel mentally doesn't contribute to your general well-being. As if not everything is attached to something else. It's why people - way too often - choose to suffer on their own.

    1. It is true, Bibi. It was apparent to me when I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, as a lot of pamphlets and information sources state quite plainly: "MS is *not* a mental illness!* It's true; it isn't, and it needs to be said because a lot of the symptoms could be confused with some psychiatric illnesses, but there did seem to be a flavour of "Don't worry! It's not a mental illness!" as if they're somehow more humiliating or shameful problems than one that has a clear physical basis.

  5. Just saw a t-shirt : "I hate bipolar disorder - it's brilliant."

  6. Im so sick of feeling sick, and havent even got enough guts to kill myself. Coz im so frightened i cant even do that right. Ive had enough.who where and what to to. Medicine for depression

  7. Upsetting life events can trigger bipolar disorder in someone with a genetic vulnerability.These events have a tendency to include intense or sudden changes—either great or terrible,for example,getting married,set away to college,losing a loved one,getting let go, or moving.
    ~Linda Smith.

  8. Get upset! Seriously its a must to take a appear past almost everything and get upset. Generally this will likely allow you to just take the inititive to produce details materialize. is green tea good for you