What is Bipolar Disorder?

Learn about the two different phases of bipolar disorder – depression and mania – and how the disorder is treated.

Sanaz Majd, MD,
May 26, 2016
Episode #109

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Contrary to popular myth, suffering from bipolar disorder doesn’t simply mean that you are “nice” one minute and “mean” the next. It is far more complicated than that. Bipolar disorder can be very distressing to live with, but believe it or not, it is quite common. More likely than not, you know someone with bipolar disorder (however, you may not necessarily know that they have it). So let’s learn a little more about this condition this week.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder, like personality disorders, often begins in adolescence or even late childhood. But patients may go undiagnosed for many years. There seems to be a substantial genetic component, but a stressful environment can also predispose patients to developing it. 

Just to make one thing clear: moodiness or mood swings are not the same thing as bipolar disorder.  Patients do often cycle between two different states, hence the term “bi-polar,” but referring to the phases of mania and depression (not meanness or niceness). Here’s what the phases mean: