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Bipolar Disorder is No Longer a ‘Mood’ Disorder?
Recently the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders came out with a new version—the DSM-5—and one of the changes was to move depression and bipolar from the chapter entitled “Mood Disorders” into their own chapters: Depressive Disorders and Bipolar and Related Disorders, respectively.
And while I’m not sure that splitting these two disorder types into separate categories makes sense, one thing that does make sense is not merely thinking of them as “mood disorders.” Because the fact of the matter is, if all depression and bipolar did was modify mood, they likely wouldn’t fall into the category of serious mental illness.
Bipolar Disorder’s Effect on Mood
Of course, the primary symptoms of bipolar disorder are mood-related. Depression is the presence of an exaggerated low mood while mania or hypomania is the presence of an exaggerated elevated mood. Fine. But let’s look at the DSM symptoms that aren’t solely mood related.
- Decreased need for sleep
- Pressured speech
- Racing thoughts or flights of ideas
- Psychomotor agitation
- Engaging in pleasurable activities with high risk potential
I would also include on this compromised decision-making ability.
- Weight gain / loss
- Changes in sleep pattern
- Psychomotor retardation or agitation
- Loss of energy
- Decreased concentration or indecisiveness
- Preoccupation with death or suicide
Impact of Bipolar Disorder’s Non-Mood-Related Symptoms
And I would say that if we removed the non-mood-related symptoms from depression and mania/hypomania, we would scarcely have an illness left at all.
If, for example, you had a very elevated mood but it didn’t drive you to spend money you didn’t have on $10,000 handbags and have sex with random strangers, it might not be so bad. If you had a low mood but it didn’t cause you to sleep for 14 hours a day and make you incapable of work or taking a shower, you might not hate it so much.
In short, it’s the impact on one’s life that really speaks to the pain of bipolar disorder. Mood effects, yes, they matter too, but if anything, they’re a small part of the problem.
“Mood” Disorders is Almost an Insult
Moving bipolar disorder out of a chapter entitled “Mood Disorders” is a rather philosophical thing and I suspect it wasn’t motivated by a recognition that the illness’s suffering is only somewhat caused by mood changes.
Nevertheless, I personally would be incredibly grateful if people started calling bipolar disorder what it is: a brain disorder. Because it’s not the “mood” that makes life with uncontrolled bipolar disorder unbearable—it’s everything that surrounds it.
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