Bipolar Disorder vs. Manic Depression

If you’ve heard anything about the term “manic depression”, you might know that it is an older term for bipolar disorder. Here’s my unpopular opinion: “bipolar disorder” is a less accurate and more dehumanizing term than “manic depression”. 

Why? There are several reasons.

  1. The new name “bipolar disorder” was coined for the wrong reasons, and decided by the DSM committee without real input from people who live with the disorder. Officially, the reason was to reduce the stigma associated with inappropriate use of the existing term… but that clearly has not worked, because “bipolar” is now used in the same ways or worse. The real reasons for the change in terminology, despite little to no change in the diagnostic features associated with the disorder, were most likely generated by political division within the APA and not really out of concern for the people who live with it every day. At the time of the change, there was a vocal group of people with bipolar/manic depression that advocated for the original name, including Kay Redfield Jamison (author of An Unquiet Mind).
  2. As far as I know, bipolar people have seen little to no real-life benefit from the change. In fact, “bipolar” conjures a lot of misconceptions about what the condition really looks and feels like. Mania and depression are not really opposites — they feed into each other (by definition), and they can even occur simultaneously. People with bipolar/manic depression typically do not fly from one mood to another within minutes or hours, but “bipolar” seems to encourage that misconception while “manic depression” gives the idea that the disorder is a particular kind of depression, and doesn’t just come and go at the drop of a hat. Rather, much like non-bipolar depression, bipolar moods come in episodes that usually last for weeks to months. “Depression” is something people have more understanding of, even if “manic depression” is a different kind of it; “bipolar” sounds like something else altogether, and it sounds like something scary.

What do you think? Which term is more stigmatized? Is one term more accurate than the other?

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