bipolar: what’s in a name?

The oldest words attached to what we now call bipolar affective disorder, are melancholia and mania. They both have their origins in Rome and Greece, before Hippocrates came along and started swearing.

Melancholy’ derives from melas ‘black’ and chole ‘bile’, because Hippocrates thought that depression resulted from an excess of black bile. ‘Mania’ is related to menos ‘spirit, force, passion’; mainesthai ‘to rage, go mad’; and mantis ‘seer’, and ultimately derives from the Indo-European root men- ‘mind’ to which, interestingly, ‘man’ is also sometimes connected. (‘Depression’, the clinical term for melancholy, is much more recent in origin and derives from the Latin deprimere ‘press down’ or ‘sink down’.)

From 300 to 500 AD, a theory claims that some people with bipolar disorder were euthanased. In the present day, Belgian law can grant permission for euthanasia to mentally ill patients (only residents of Belgium).


400 BC – Hippocrates linked the black bile of melancholia with the yellow bile of mania.
98 – 177 AD, Soranus of Ephesus linked the two words.
30 – 150 AD, Aretaeus of Cappadocia wrote the earliest surviving texts about it.
1025, Avicenna, in Iran, defined it as a manic melancholic madness.
1583, Gao Lian in China, described it as a mental illness (hsin-ping) and identified the role of stress.
17th century, Richard Napier, Britain, wrote extensively about psychiatric mental referred to a disorder in which two mood states existed in a cycling pattern within one individual.
1686, Swiss Theophilus Bonet  described it as ‘manico-melancolicus’.
1854, Jules Baillarger, Switzerland,  called it folie à double forme (‘dual-form insanity’).
1854, Jean-Pierre Falret, Switzerland, called it folie circulaire (‘circular insanity’) by him.

“It is remarkable how Falret’s description of symptoms and hereditary factors are so similar to descriptions found in present-day books and journals.” – Erika Bukkfalvi Hillard

1896 – 1913, Emil Kraepelin, Germany who, using Kahlbaum’s concept of cyclothymia, coined the term manic depressive insanity.
1903, Carl Gustav Jung, Switzerland,  distinguished between manic depression with and without psychosis.
1952, the American Psychiatric Association defined it as ‘manic-depressive reaction’, as opposed to illness.
1957, Karl Leonhard, Germany, was the first to introduce the terms bipolar and unipolar.
1968, USA, both the ICD-8 and DSM-II reverted to ‘manic-depressive illness’ as biological thinking came to the fore.
1980, USA, the DSM adopted the term bipolar disorder.

2015, it is known as bipolar disorder (BD) or bipolar affective disorder (BAD). However, there is a fairly widespread wish to revert to manic depression, notably expressed by Kay Redfield Jamison. Sometimes the emoticons :): and :(: are used. Most non suffered think it simply means unpredictable and extremely fast mood swings. The level of stigma is still ludicrous in postmodern times. currently lists synonyms for bipolar disorder as “bipolar affective disorder, bipolar illness, manic-depression, manic-depressive disorder and manic-depressive psychosis”.


*pompous pose* It is my contention that the word bipolar doesn’t describe it accurately at all. I think we need the word spectrum – which negates bipolar, so we would need to rewrite the whole name. And the emphasis should be shifted from psychology to psychiatry, which, as the field includes an MD qualification, would put it firmly into the genetic and neurotoxic categories. Calling it a mental illness (although hsin ping does sound rather fun) doesn’t work; people simply assume that we’re doing it all on purpose.

Any ideas?

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battlescarred, bright, bewildered, bent, blue & bipolar

34 thoughts on “bipolar: what’s in a name?”

  1. Well as I have just been told that my recent manic break was more a result of life events than the underlying bipolar I guess bipolar exists in a vacuum, divorced from reality and we might as well go back to considering it demonic possession.Either way I am fucked (and not in a good way). Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Who told you that? Want me to deploy the dykeboots and stomp them flat? So … situational mania … do muggles get it, or just we who are possessed by demons? Flawed logic yet again eh?

      I don’t want people to be shitty to you. I want you to only be fucked in the good way.


      Liked by 1 person

      1. This is the verdict of the psychiatrist at the mood disorder clinic. Not sure what they mean but I have found out that they have accepted me into the clinic which is NOT the impression I had on Monday. I made a few angry calls yesterday.


  2. Since this most recent depression, the doctor upped my abilify, and even before that I’ve been getting around 4 hours of sleep (due to the depression I think). Sooo I am waiting for the roller coaster to speed up – look Ma no hands! I’m still very depressed/unmotivated… although Paris and or a little motor home is starting to look really good. I do like the proposition that it’s circular in nature.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. There is also a Paris Maine but I was not thinking of that … I have always wanted to go to Paris France but things keep getting worse and worse there :( I would love to just spend a couple months exploring the whole country. One of the things my French teacher in HS did was introduce us to the culture, the geography, the cuisine … ok it’s the cuisine I want, that’s all… the rest is just an excuse.


  3. I like the circular/cyclical names. Because it takes away that “just stay up” thing that some people say. And I agree about psychiatry being the proper place for it. Meds help to make it more of a skating rink than rapids. You could say both have their unique appeal. Both are cold, damp, and leave the wind chapping your face.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, everyone can say they have multiple polarities. They fall to this one and that one rapidly based on situations. And that’s what the world thinks bipolar disorder is (to which I say “oh god no you poor thing here read a book”)

        And obviously cancer is too many cans, sir.

        Not trying to make a cancer joke just pointing out how stupid the name bipolar is

        Liked by 2 people

  4. I like manic depression, partly because it sounds more romantic and dramatic, but mainly because it makes it clear i’m depressed, and that the up is mania, not happiness. Bipolar is also overused by stupid people, “ugh, seriously, she is such a bitch sometimes, she must be bipolar” “ohmygod, i like cry at the drop of a hat lately, do you think i’m bipolar?” I think people assosciate bipolar with mood swings. How do you explain to a muggle that just because sometimes your fly like your on speed, with all the ambition and creativity and energy in the world, doesn’t mean your happy or in a “good mood”, and in these “high” times its far more likely I could follow through on my fantasies and finally off myself.
    I’ve lost my train of thought… whats in a name? I don’t know, but i think we may need one that makes people take it more/less seriously, or sounds more like it really is.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, I totally agree with everything you said. That muggle attitude drive me nuts – also when it is used for weather, politics and economics. Can’t really bitch about its function in electronics …

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I think we should go back to “folie cirulaire”…give something a non-English term and people might be less inclined to use it in pop songs…or they should take it from a random, indigenous culture…any ideas of which language would be cool? Spanish might not be that cool – La locura del Cerebro redondo…Madness of the round brain…

    Liked by 2 people

        1. You said you liked distractions not so? lol…but Redondo Beach is a city in California…ahhh that’s even better. Why not just call it Redondo Beach Disorder?

          How is your day going btw?

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I meant the Patti Smith song :)

            The day started well (always does — beach) and now it’s windy as hell. I’m down, but that’s ok – I’m seeing my psychiatrist tomorrow. How are you doing?

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Not social at all irl…prefer to be mute actually…my breath is very precious as using it deflates the balloon and there’s very little oxygen in my brain as it is. And the fatigue is like an annoying fly that buzzes in my face and follows me everywhere I go.

              Otherwise everything is guava pie ;) I saw guava’s packaged in plastic at the supermarket yesterday and thought of you…

              Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha, yeah an ancient language would be good. Something that the average person would have no clue how to translate. Lol, what would “madness of the round brain” be cool for?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I guess M of the RB could’ve been a terrible disorder, suffered only by those of Oliver Cromwell’s Roundheads who had encephalitis as children.


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