Is There A Difference Between Bipolar & Manic Depressive?

Most of us grew up hearing the term "bipolar" misused in reference to individuals who were simply moody ("Did you see how she yelled at me?! She's so bipolar!"). Unfortunately, while the term bipolar is used commonly, most people don't understand that bipolar disorder is a debilitating mental illness that affects around 5.7 million American adults. The median age for being diagnosed with bipolar disorder is 25, but it can manifest in children and people in their forties and fifties all the same. Because of the astonishing amount of stigma around mental illness in our society (some people still think depression can be cured by eating healthier), the average person doesn't know much about what it's like to suffer from bipolar disorder, and they often get confused about how bipolar disorder relates to manic depression. The shorthand answer, which we'll get into more detail below, is that bipolar disorder and manic depression are actually the same illness.

Before we go on, know that there are two "types" of bipolar disorder. Bipolar I is identified by a person experiencing phases of mania, in which they have a huge burst of energy, stay up all hours of the night, and engage in reckless behavior. Mania can succinctly be described as,"abnormally and persistently elevated, expansive or irritable mood that lasts at least one week [with] persistently increased goal-directed activity or energy," according to the Mayo Clinic. Then there's bipolar II, which is known for stages of hypomania, which lasts around four days and is described as more of a "swinging" sensation. A person feels more energetic and lively, they may do careless things, but it's to a lesser degree than the mania that accompanies bipolar I.

Not every bipolar case is so cut and dry that it can fall nicely into one of these categories, but those are the basic guidelines medical professionals tend to follow. For the sake of clarity, when I refer to bipolar disorder as we talk about its relationship to manic depression, I'll be referring to the larger umbrella that encompasses both "types" of this disease.

Bipolar Disorder & Manic Depression Are Actually The Same Thing

Bustle spoke with Jodi Aman, a psychotherapist with over 20 years of experience working with mentally ill patients and the author of You 1 Anxiety 0 , who says the two terms clinically have no difference. "The name of [the disorder] changed from manic depressive to bipolar," she says. Technically, the term manic depressive is no longer used in the medical community. It was removed as an official label several years ago in order to distinctly separate it from depression, yet people will still use it in conversation, which is why you still hear it.

Clinical Depression Is Part Of The Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis

In order to gain a better understanding of bipolar disorder, it's important to understand why manic depression was ever used as a name for the disease in the first place. A person with bipolar disorder will suffer from bouts of clinical depression, along with the phases of mania or hypomania. That's precisely why the term manic depression was assigned to bipolar disorder a long time ago, because it referred to both the mania and the depression in one neat package.

However, this use of manic depressive has led to a lot of confusion, and some have to come to think that it just means someone is wrestling with depression for an extended period of time before they bounce back to normal. Aman reminds us that bipolar disorder is so much more than that. "The manic or depressive episodes last longer than a few hours or days," she says, which distinguishes it clearly from clinical depression.

Many People With Bipolar Disorder Are Misdiagnosed As Depressed

Up to 25 percent of people with bipolar disorder are wrongly diagnosed with depression initially, which may have to do with the fact that they only seek treatment when they're trapped in the desperate pit of clinical depression. Later on, when the medical professional learns of the episodes of mania or hypomania in the patient's life, they are more often able to correctly identify bipolar disorder.

There's another side to the misdiagnosis, though. "Many people think of bipolar as a way to describe extreme mood swings and it tends to be overdiagnosed, especially in teenage populations," Aman tells Bustle. But the phases of mania or hypomania differ distinctly from mood swings, both in their duration and how they interfere with people's everyday lives. Individuals with bipolar disorder, versus those with severe mood swings or clinical depression, are more likely to suffer from substance abuse, eating disorders, and metabolic issues.

"People who carry this diagnosis also look very different from each other," Aman says, and it's a difficult mental illness to pinpoint as a result. There is a hackneyed belief out there that people with bipolar disorder shift back and forth between depression and mania or hypomania quite often, that there's an identifiable pattern that presents itself to the eye. This is not the case. Each person's episodes will pan out differently, making it important for a person to be observed regularly by a professional so they can understand how their mental illness plays out.

This also means treatment will vary for each person. Aman says she cannot prescribe a single way of helping someone through a manic stage, as everyone responds differently. She does point out, though, that every person with bipolar disorder, no matter what "type" they have or how often they fall into a clinical depression, "needs loads of support from friends and family." They often forget the fact that they're loved, so keep encouraging them, even if you feel like you don't quite get what they're going through.

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