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The Abundant Life Blog

Bipolar or Just Mood Swings?

Posted by cyndyadeniyi@gmail.com on May 28, 2018 at 2:50 PM

In the late 80s it seemed like every teacher, parent, and child was becoming enlightened as the terms ADD, ADHD, and Ritalin became part of the hip, well-formed crowd's lexicon. With the turn of the century, it seems the new fad is for everyone to be "bipolar". While I would argue that it is great those outside of the mental health field are beginning to recognize that mental illness is real and is common. By throwing around terms like bipolar, we have lessened what it really is and the plight of those who suffer with it.

Mood swings happen. They happen to all of us. They happen with and without notice. They happen to women and to men. The old and the young have mood swings. Mood swings are normal. So what happens when we see a mood swing and reply, "Oh you so bipolar!"? That depends.

That statement -- the label itself starts us down a very unhealthy path. On the one hand, the person may be going through a normal, health mood swing and we have made it into something it is not. This can cause the person to become defensive, teach the person not to be themselves when around others, or even cause someone to question their sanity. 

The later often happens in my office. Someone will come for the first time and express concern that they have bipolar disorder because "my family keeps saying that I do." As part of my intake, I walk through the diagnosis process with clients and rarely are we looking at anything related to bipolar disorder. 

Suppose the opposite is true. The person really does have bipolar disorder. Now what? They have learned that it no okay with you. That you look at it as a problem. They may feel something private and personal has been revealed without their consent.  While they may be working hard to control the symptoms, they have discovered by way of the statement, that it is not working.

I have also seen this pattern play out in my office. Someone who has been doing well has a short mood swing or gets upset about an injustice and those close to the person accuse them of "being bipolar." One client notes, "I work so hard to not be bipolar. I don't know why I try if I'm just going to be treated like I'm bipolar no matter what."

My point is, there is nothing good that comes out of calling someone bipolar. It is just a label. It's a label that is helpful to insurance companies and psychiatrist and few else.

Bipolar is more than an occassional mood swing. It is a pattern of behavior with specific features collectively called "mania". Yes mania can include agitation and going from sad to happy or happy to angry quickly. However, mania is so much more. It include risk taking behaviors, being hypertalkative, feeling rested with very, very little sleep, changes in eating patterns, changes in shopping patterns and host of other behaviors.

The point is that only a through assessment by a trained mental health professional can diagnose bipolar disorder (and its not easy for us either).  So lets stop calling every mood swing bipolar disorder and start sharing compassion with the person who is having the mood swing instead. That is much more helpful. 

Categories: Mental Health, Depression

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