defining bipolar disorder

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What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar Disorder definition is a mental illness which significantly affects a person’s mood. The name implies two polarities. On one end of the spectrum is major depression, whereas, on the other end of the spectrum, is mania. The disorder was once referred to as manic depression. Again, describing the opposing moods that one who has this disorder alternates between. However, a person with this disorder may also have periods of time in which they experience a “normal” mood. Typically, mania either immediately precedes or proceeds depression. At times, someone with bipolar disorder may develop psychosis.

In order to better understand the bipolar disorder definition, it is helpful to understand the two extremes. On the one end of the extreme is major depression. Major Depression may be evidenced by a depressed mood, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, significant weight gain or weight loss due to overeating or not eating, insomnia or oversleeping, restlessness or slowed movements and speech, lethargy, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, feelings of worthlessness, guilt, helplessness or hopelessness, and thoughts of death or dying or suicidal attempts. Someone who is depressed may cry frequently, be withdrawn or isolate themselves from others. Depression can lead to feeling extreme guilt that can become delusional in nature.

On the other end is mania. Mania can be experienced with a great deal of agitation, euphoria, energy, restlessness, inability to sleep, hypersexuality, impulsiveness, recklessness, erratic behaviors, delusions, grandiosity, racing thoughts, rapid speech, rhyming speech, words strung together which seem to not make any sense at all, and poor judgment. A person in a manic state may become abusive to either a spouse or his or her child(ren). The sense of euphoria can make a person resist treatment.

A person with bipolar disorder alternates between the above defined moods which can be confusing and troubling to family and friends who care about him or her. You may feel like the person you care about is two different people. Furthermore, these mood swings can result in substance abuse and suicidal attempts or completion which is devastating to families (Miklowitz & Johnson, 2006.)


In further looking at bipolar disorder definition, it is helpful to discuss causes of the condition. There is no known single cause for bipolar disorder. However, there are multiple factors which appear to work together.

Genetic Predisposition: First degree relatives of someone with bipolar disorder are more likely to develop bipolar disorder than the general population (Abraham, 2010).That does not mean the person will develop bipolar disorder. Also, if one identical twin is diagnosed with the disorder, the other is at the highest risk of developing bipolar disorder than other first degree relatives or the general population (Aloi 2010).

Environment: Stressors tend to trigger many mental health conditions including bipolar disorder. Someone can go their whole life with the genetic predisposition to develop a condition without developing it. Then, a major stressor occurs which triggers the condition. The following are examples of potential stressors; a significant loss, emotional or physical trauma, illness or drug use. Furthermore, someone whose parent has bipolar disorder, especially if untreated, potentially grew up in an unpredictable and stressful environment which can make them more vulnerable to developing the condition themselves.

Neurotransmitters: Chemicals in the brain that regulate many brain and bodily functions are off balance in those suffering from bipolar disorder. For example, high levels of Norepinephrine are associated with mania whereas low levels are associated with depression. Serotonin and dopamine are other neurotransmitters that may be out of balance. An altered level of dopamine is related to psychosis.

Sleep: Disturbance in sleep patterns can trigger mania or depression. To compound upon this problem is the fact that someone who is manic often needs very little sleep and may suffer from even more significant sleep deprivation.


Bipolar disorder is not curable but it is treatable. According to Aloi (2010), If treated, 1 in 10 people may never have another manic episode. The condition can be managed and those who have the condition as well as their family members can educate themselves in order to be aware when a mood episode is starting in order to adjust medication appropriately. Bipolar disorder with mixed episodes may be the hardest to treat successfully but can be treated.


Miklowitz, DJ & Johnson, SL; The Psychopathology and Treatment of Bipolar Disorder; Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 2006 2:199-235.

WebMD; Causes of Bipolar Disorder; Reviewed by, Raya Almufti Abraham, 2010.

emedicinehealth; Bipolar Disorder; Medical Author: Mara Aloi, MD, Assistant Professor of emergency Medicine, Department of Emergency Medicine, Allegheny General Hospital, Drexel University School of Medicine.

Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stoppler, MD, 2010.

Bright Hub: Harris, Mandy Dobbins; The Facts About Bipolar Disorder, 2011. Edited by: Dr. Jerry Kennard.

Bright Hub: Harris, Mandy Dobbins: The Facts About Dysphoric Mania, 2011. Edited by: Dr. Jerry Kennard.

This post is part of the series: Bipolar Disorder

The different types of bipolar disorders are defined with an emphasis on mania. Symptoms, diagnosis, causes, prognosis and treatment options are given. Additionally, dysphoric mania is also explained.

  1. Defining Bipolar Disorder
  2. Spotlight on the Types of Bipolar Disorder
  3. The Facts about Bipolar Mania
  4. The Facts about Dysphoric Mania