We have all heard someone say it. "X is so bipolar." They could be referring to the weather, a moody teenager, or someone that they feel angry toward. Usually, they don't mean to be harmful when they say these words. Sometimes, they use this phrase to demean or devalue someone's behavior. Either way, when these words are thrown around so carelessly, they do cause harm, toward both people who have bipolar disorder and people who love someone with bipolar disorder.
I know this because I am bipolar. I was diagnosed at 16 years old, although I had met the criteria years before, when I was so young that psychiatrists dismissed my symptoms. They avoided labeling such a young child as bipolar because of the negative connotations that the word can have. Instead, I was called "emotional" or "sensitive." And while I am both of these things, I am also bipolar. When my disorder is used to describe people who clearly do not have it, it devalues the people who genuinely suffer with the struggles of having bipolar disorder. When my disorder is used to describe objects or phenomena that are incapable of having it, it dehumanizes those who must live with it on a daily basis. An unnecessary stigma has been placed on the phrase to mean irrational, crazy, or indecisive. None of these accurately represent bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder affects millions of people in the United States. Bipolar disorder affects both genders nearly equally. It is an organic disorder. This means that it has a physiological reasoning behind its development. In this case, it's a dysfunction of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, which are responsible for a person's mood. Bipolar disorder has two phases: Depression and mania, or hypomania (which is just a less intense version of mania). During the depressive state, a person with bipolar disorder may feel worthless, extremely tired and depressed. They may also struggle to sleep, or sleep excessive amounts. They may gain or lose weight, have difficulty concentrating and feel little or no pleasure in their daily lives. In the manic state, people experience the exact opposite. They may feel high self-esteem. They may feel that they don't need to sleep as much as usual. They will probably having racing thoughts, accompanied by rapid speech. They may suddenly try to make and fulfill goals that seem impossible, or even be unable to just sit still.
Luckily, there is treatment available for people who struggle with this disorder. Some combination of medication, therapy and social support usually works best. That's where using bipolar as an adjective comes into play. When you do this, you are not being social support, but rather social ridicule. You are using bipolar disorder as a word that is shameful or funny. When people with bipolar disorder look into their communities, or even on social media, and see or hear these words, it can be detrimental. It can add to the unnecessary shame, guilt and worthlessness that they are already experiencing. It can make them feel defeated. I urge you to quit using a disorder that so many suffer from in silence to make a point. If you can't make your point without using "bipolar," it probably wasn't a strong point to begin with. Instead try saying things like, "The weather is so unstable!" Or even, "That teenager is really temperamental today." And I urge you to especially never use bipolar as an insult. Bipolar is a mental health disorder, not an adjective.