Bipolar Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How to Use It

Do you know what it means to be bipolar? Read on as we explore the meaning of bipolar to uncover this term’s definition and more.

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Did you know that one in every 100 people will be diagnosed with bipolar disorder at some point? The medical condition is quite common, to say the least, affecting approximately 2.3 million folks nationwide (aka almost one percent of the U.S. population).

But what exactly is bipolar disorder, and what are the symptoms? We’ll tell you. Read on to discover our complete guide on this common mental health illness to learn what it is, how it’s diagnosed, and more. 

What Is the Definition of Bipolar?

According to the experts over at the National Institute of Mental Health, bipolar disorder — formerly called manic depression or manic-depressive illness — is a common mental disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, activity levels, energy, concentration, and the ability to function optimally. These shifts can lead to extreme mood swings that include emotional highs (mania and hypomania) and lows (depression).  

What Are The Four Types of Bipolar Disorder?

Despite what many people may think, bipolar disorder is a complex mental illness that is much more than just sporadic bouts of moodiness. It’s a condition that affects your brain and mental health. With that in mind, here are the four main types of bipolar disorder:

  • Bipolar I Disorder involves manic episodes that last more than six days or severe mania that requires hospital intervention. 
  • Bipolar II Disorder featured both depression and mania, but the ladder is less severe than in bipolar I. Called hypomania, a person with this type may experience major depressive episodes preceding or following a manic episode. 
  • Cyclothymic Disorder or cyclothymia includes symptoms of depression and hypomania that can last for two years or more. 
  • Unspecified Bipolar Disorder involves symptoms that don’t fall into the categories listed above. These symptoms tend to stem from drug or alcohol use (such as substance use disorders). 

What Are the Symptoms of Mania?

Manic episodes can look different from person to person, but they involve extreme highs, during which an individual may experience:

  • Irritability, moodiness, or anger
  • High self-esteem
  • Hallucinations
  • Intense excitement and enthusiasm
  • Racing thoughts
  • Restlessness
  • Reckless behavior, such as spending too much money and risky sexual activity
  • An inability to make decisions
  • High energy levels and bouts of overactivity
  • Delusions

What Are the Symptoms of Depression?

In contrast to mania, depressive symptoms may include:

  • Depressed mood
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Lack of energy or fatigue
  • Restlessness
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Changes in sleep habits
  • Loss of pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Feelings of guilt, doom, hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Indecision or poor focus
  • Self injury

Not everyone who has a bipolar disorder experiences depression, but if you have gone through the motions of mania, you may also be at risk of developing depression.

Note: If you have thoughts of death, suicide, or hurting yourself — whether you have a mental illness or not — it’s imperative to call 911 or get to the nearest emergency room as soon as possible. Life can be tough, but your life is valuable — and treatment options are available.  

How Is Bipolar Disorder Treated?

As previously mentioned, there are a number of options available to help patients function effectively in daily life. Some of the most popular treatments include:

  • Medication such as antidepressants and mood stabilizers, including lithium
  • Lifestyle remedies such as meditation, exercise, and healthy eating habits 
  • Counseling such as psychotherapy (like cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT), psychiatry, support groups, or talk therapy.

What Causes Bipolar Disorder?

Unfortunately, scientists aren’t exactly sure what causes this common mental illness, but there are a few theories, including chemical imbalance in the brain, genetics, and triggers.

Related Words You Should Know

As you continue on your journey to understand bipolar disorder, you’ll likely come across a number of terms that may cause some confusion if you aren’t sure of their meaning. 

To prevent this from happening, we’ve put together a list of related words for you to study. Not only will this help you to improve your overall understanding of mental illness, but you’ll discover new terms to expand your spoken vocabulary, too!

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): A common condition that’s marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity. 
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): A condition of persistent mental and emotional stress in which a person has difficulty recovering after a traumatic event. 
  • Anxiety disorders: A type of mental health condition characterized by feelings of worry, anxiousness, or fear. 
  • Antipsychotic or neuroleptics: Used to treat psychotic disorders by reducing symptoms. 
  • Rapid cycling: Extreme changes in moods four or more times in any given 12-month period. 
  • Psychosis: A mental disorder that is characterized by a disconnection from reality. 
  • Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT): A psychiatric treatment that uses electrical currents to cause a brief seizure. 


In short, bipolar disorder is a mental health illness that causes changes in a person’s mood, energy, and ability to function. Some of the most common symptoms of bipolar disorder include episodes of depression as well as episodes of mania and hypomanic episodes.

Although the cause of bipolar disorder is unknown, many scientists believe genetics may play a role. So if one of your family members has a mental health condition such as bipolar disorder, it’s possible that you may develop one, too. That said, this is not always the case. 


  1. Bipolar Disorder | NHS
  2. Bipolar Disorder | NIMH
  3. Bipolar Disorder: Symptoms, Treatments, Recovery Rates | Mental Illness Policy