Although bipolar disorder is a serious mental health condition, you’ve likely heard it used flippantly to describe someone who changes their mind frequently. Maybe you’ve heard someone say, “Yesterday, Jenny was complaining that we never invite her anywhere, but then she didn’t want to go to dinner with us tonight. She’s so bipolar!” or “Everything seemed fine when I left this morning, but when I got home from work, Sam seemed really mad for no reason. He’s acting bipolar again.” Neither of these examples are true cases of bipolar disorder, and the misuse of the term does a disservice to those who suffer from this debilitating condition.
Bipolar disorder describes extremely intense periods of emotion that can change unexpectedly. Extremely “high” periods, marked by increased energy, rapid speech, and reckless behavior, are known as manic episodes. Extremely “low” periods, marked by feelings of hopelessness, difficulty sleeping, exhaustion, and suicidal thoughts, are known as depressive episodes.