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The Language of Bipolar Disorder Part I

The Language of Bipolar Disorder Part IThere’s a lot of jargon in the medical world. Medications, procedures, abbreviations. It’s a lot to take in, especially with a new diagnosis. Treatment for bipolar disorder also develops over time, meaning knew terms and phrases will get thrown in. Some of this happens in a doctor’s office and some of it happens in therapy. There are multiple types of therapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy, anger management, addiction treatment, couple’s therapy, mindfulness therapy, etc. Each new doctor or therapist you see may not know what you’ve encountered and what education you may still need. Patients may also feel intimidated about asking questions. If you’ve been in treatment for years, shouldn’t you know your disorder inside out? No.

It’s up to your doctor to keep you informed about a disorder with constantly updated research. It’s also up to you to ask questions. In the mean time, here are a few terms that may come in handy:

Bipolar disorder: Formerly known as “manic depression,” bipolar disorder causes extreme mood swings between depression (feelings of guilt, hopelessness or worthlessness) and mania (abnormal risk-taking, euphoria or high-energy). Other symptoms may include anxiety and suicidal ideation. This is the term you hear over and over. It informs the rest of what you may need to know.

Cyclothymia: When you have symptoms of mania and depression, but they don’t meet the criteria for a full diagnosis of bipolar disorder, you may be diagnosed with cyclothymia. The moods experienced are not as extreme as with full bipolar disorder, but still have a negative impact on your life. You have to have had symptoms for two years to meet diagnostic requirements.

Bipolar NOS: Bipolar “Not Otherwise Specified” is a diagnosis that happens when there are episodes that are similar to bipolar disorder or cyclothymia, but again do not meet the requirements for diagnosis of these disorders. The hallmark symptoms of bipolar NOS are hypomania and quick mood changes.

Hypomania: “Hypo” is based on the Greek word for “under.” So, hypomania shares similar symptoms with mania- increased energy, trouble sleeping and anxiety- but the symptoms are less severe.

Dysthymia: Depression has many faces, and dysthymia is one of them. It is a chronic disorder, but is less severe than major depressive disorder. Both major depression and dysthymia can be present in bipolar disorder.

Euthymia: This is when the bipolar pendulum reaches equilibrium. You’re in between phases at this point. That is not to say that bipolar patients are completely well. Unfortunately there are effects of bipolar disorder between phases too.

Psychosis: Bipolar I (occasionally, but rarely bipolar II) patients can sometimes experience psychosis. It’s more common during manic phases but can happen during depressive phases as well. During psychosis, patients can experience hallucinations, which is when a person perceives anything that isn’t there, whether it’s a sound, taste, sight, etc. There are also delusions during psychosis in which the patient holds a belief that something is true when there is evidence to the contrary.

Psychopathy: This is an entirely different psychological disorder from bipolar disorder. The confusion can come in because symptoms during mania include grandiosity and risky behavior, both of which are symptoms of psychopathy. They are only two of several required symptoms for a diagnosis of psychopathy.

Affective disorder: Also called “mood disorders,” affective disorders affect your mood. Sometimes science is not creative. Depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder- these all fall under the umbrella of affective disorders.

Spectrum disorder: Think about the visual spectrum. Depending on where you look on the spectrum, you will see a different color. Spectrum disorders work in a similar way. Bipolar I, bipolar II, cyclothymia, depression, anxiety- these disorders all have common elements and symptoms, but the diagnosis depends on where they lie on the spectrum.

Keep your eye out for part II when I drop even more vocabulary knowledge.



You can find me on Twitter @LaRaeRLaBouff

The Language of Bipolar Disorder Part I

LaRae LaBouff

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APA Reference
LaBouff, L. (2015). The Language of Bipolar Disorder Part I. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 6, 2020, from


Last updated: 19 Sep 2015
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