Bipolar Disorder: The Definition and Forms of Treatment

When someone says the phrase “bipolar disorder,” what image does that conjure up in your mind? Do you picture someone flying off the handle at the slightest provocation? What sort of definition would you attribute to bipolar disorder?

There are a lot of misconceptions about this illness that I hope will be cleared up in this post. I personally live with bipolar disorder and I know how hard it can be to feel misunderstood.

Bipolar Disorder Definition

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, bipolar disorder…

“…also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.

People normally fluctuate between two states: mania and depression. Mania is a period of higher energy and depression is a period of lows.

There are four different forms of this illness. (According to the previously linked article.)

  1. Bipolar I: Manic episodes that last at least 7 days, or that are so severe they hospitalization becomes required. Depression that lasts at least 2 weeks. “Mixed episodes” (both states at the same time) are also possible.
  2. Bipolar II: “Hypomania” and depression, but not severe manic episodes. (This is what I have. I have bipolar 2 with rapid cycling mixed episodes.)
  3. Cyclothymic disorder/cyclothmia: Symptoms of hypomania and depression but not enough to be classified as distinct hypomanic or depressive episodes.
  4. Other/unspecified bipolar disorders: Bipolar symptoms that do not meet either of the previous categories.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

The NIMH states that symptoms to be aware of are as follows:

  • Feel very “up,” “high,” or elated
  • Have a lot of energy
  • Have increased activity levels
  • Feel “jumpy” or “wired”
  • Have trouble sleeping
  • Become more active than usual
  • Talk really fast about a lot of different things
  • Be agitated, irritable, or “touchy”
  • Feel like their thoughts are going very fast
  • Think they can do a lot of things at once
  • Do risky things, like spend a lot of money or have reckless sex
  • Feel very sad, down, empty, or hopeless
  • Have very little energy
  • Experience decreased activity levels
  • Have trouble sleeping, they may sleep too little or too much
  • Feel like they can’t enjoy anything
  • Feel worried and empty
  • Have trouble concentrating
  • Forget things a lot
  • Eat too much or too little
  • Feel tired or “slowed down”
  • Think about death or suicide

Bipolar disorder, bipolar disorder definition, bipolar disorder treatment

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Portrayals in the Media

  • “Homeland”– The main character of this series has bipolar disorder. I have never seen this show, but one article I read makes it seem like her disease is used as a plot device more often than it should be.
  • “Silver Linings Playbook”– According to the above article, the main character’s battle with bipolar would be more realistic if the film makers did not place as much emphasis on his aggression.
  • Britney Spears meltdown– She had a famous meltdown in 2007 that had a lot of classic hallmarks of bipolar disorder. I think for a lot of people that left a bad taste in their mouths as far as the illness is concerned, and made them believe that that sort of behavior is the case for everyone with this diagnosis.

Treatment for Bipolar Disorder

The two main treatments for bipolar disorder are medication and therapy. There are instances in which a person might choose to try to live with their illness and not seek these forms of treatment. However, I do not recommend that.

Prescription medication for bipolar can take some time to figure out. It is often a game of trial and error. Sometimes, it is incredibly frustrating. Unfortunately, our brain needs these chemicals to stabilize itself, and it is very difficult to live without in most cases.

Therapy has so many benefits. For a person with bipolar disorder, it can help you manage your racing thoughts, and the things that trigger your irritability. It can help you when you are in a depressive episode. It is possible to go without therapy, but there are so many benefits that it is silly to try to manage on your own.


These treatments are lifelong. You will go through phases where you are more stable than other times, and treatment will be adjusted. Just be patient and stay the course. Take care of yourself, and don’t forget to make self care a priority. You are worth it.

And remember: You are not bipolar. You have bipolar disorder. Remind yourself daily that you are so much more than that.

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Related Posts: Depression Explained in 140 Characters or Less, 5 Ways to Improve Your Sleep Habits— And Why It Matters, 10 Self Care Tips You Can Use Today to Feel More Emotionally Well

50 thoughts on “Bipolar Disorder: The Definition and Forms of Treatment”

  1. When I was a teenager, my best friend told me that her dad had bipolar disorder. I really didn’t know much about the condition or realize the stigma that surrounded it at the time (in the 70s.) He was one of my favorite adults. Fortunately for them, he seemed to do really well with his medications.

    I’m glad that much of the stigma is gone regarding mental health issues and that science continues to improve!

    1. Hey Beth, that’s great that he was able to find success for his bipolar disorder. It’s definitely possible. I’m relatively high functioning, which I’m grateful for. I’m so glad things are slowly advancing too. Thanks for reading!

  2. This is wonderful insight for those of us who may not be, or know someone, battling bipolar disorder. My uncle has bipolar disorder and I think people often imagine it’s always someone who is “up” one minute and then “down” the next. That’s definitely not always the case! Thank you for sharing this to help clear the air around some of the assumptions and misconceptions people have!

    1. YES! I am mostly down, and people don’t realize that it varies so much. I’m glad you found it so helpful. Thanks for taking the time to read!

  3. A very thorough breakdown. I had a neighbour who was bi-polar and it was very tough on her and her family at times. Especially when she ended up in the hospital. Thank you for sharing the breakdown! Helps to understand the many variations.

  4. I think celebrities in the media as well as their portrayals in movies and TV have made bipolar disorder seem like this outlandish, obvious condition when that’s not necessarily true! I enjoyed reading your informative post and hope it opens the eyes of your readers!

  5. Thank you for sharing this information. I think mental health can be so misunderstood in society and has recently been brought to the forefront with Kanye West and other celebrities.

    1. Yeah, people don’t really have an understanding and this is some sort of gimmick. Hopefully Kanye’s issues lead to more education for people that need it. Thanks for reading!

  6. I absolutely love your reminder at the end of this post! It is important to think in healthy ways, since I think that helps us see ourselves better.

    Another media tie-in that I recently became aware of us a young mother in season 13 of the Canadian show, Heartland. There was not much emphasis on her disorder, and she went to a treatment facility for it, but it was wholesome to see that not all the characters in the show were ‘perfect’.

    1. Yeah, it’s nice to see good representation for people with mental illness. Not just people “acting” crazy and no sympathy for the character. Since I wrote this, I was very impressed by a character in season 3 of Ozark too. Thanks for reading!

  7. I’ve recently been diagnosed with I think Cyclothymic disorder alongside my BPD, anxiety and depression, I’m collecting disorders now. It’s interesting to get to know more about it, as while I knew of bipolar I hadn’t heard of Cyclothymic disorder before.

    1. Yeah that’s one that doesn’t get talked about as much. I hope whatever treatment they suggest helps you and you feel better. Thanks for reading!

  8. Thank you so much for sharing this. I have a family member that the family has had issues with for years. We’ve always known something was wrong, but we weren’t sure and we couldn’t get him to get help. I think he might be bipolar.

  9. I know a few people who are bipolar and it breaks my heart that they suffer so much. I honestly think a couple of their symptoms are from all the meds they are on before they started bipolar meds which haven’t helped. It just makes me wonder what some meds are doing to us.

    1. It could be! It has been a very long battle for me with medication, as I seem to be resistant to most anti-depressants. Hopefully they come up with some better solutions soon. Thanks for reading!

  10. Thank you for sharing this. I believe that bipolar disorder is largely misunderstood, due to lack of open conversation about it as well as the questionable portrayal we see in the media today. While I personally don’t live with BPD, I do know people who do and the lack of understanding is a HUGE barrier.

  11. Love everything that helps people understand a mental illness. It’s so hard for some not to be judgemental just because it’s something you can’t see physically. Thanks for sharing.

  12. laurabooksandblogs

    I like how you broke down the different forms of this illness. I have several relatives with bipolar disorder, and none of them seem to have the same symptoms. So, it’s good to know that there are different forms of it.

  13. Very informative and helpful! I have a good friend with bipolar disorder and it is always nice to have helpful information for close friends, as well as for the people that live with bipolar daily.

  14. This was a really useful blog post, I know bits and bobs about Bipolar so it was interested reading through the different types and also where it has been portrayed in the media too! Useful read, thank you!

  15. Great post! And well written; clear and well constructed! I admit to not knowing much about bipolar disorder until reading this post; like the four different levels of bipolar. I also thought it was effective how you relate bipolar to how it’s represented in the media. Well done!


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