Bipolar Disorder


Bipolar disorder is characterized by episodes of extreme mood swings between depressions and mania. Depression is characterized by feeling of hopelessness, low energy, reduced interest in daily activities, and suicidal tendencies. On the opposite side of the spectrum, a manic episode is characterized by euphoria, hyperactivity, and a wildly optimistic state.
Mania and melancholia, the first name given to bipolar disorder, are two of the earliest described human diseases, although in a different and broader way than in modern definitions.[1] At the end of the nineteenth century, the modern concept of bipolar disorder raised from the work of Emil Kraepelin, a German psychiatrist, also considered as the father of modern psychiatry, who coined the term “manic-depressive”.[2] Various concept of the bipolar spectrum were developed before reaching the actual description found in the Diagnostic and statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (DSM-IV-TR), in which bipolar disorder is classified under the Axis I, a system of classification that includes all clinical disorders; bipolar disorders are classified in three separate categories that are distinguished by the intensity and duration of the different episodes.

Health Impact

The manic or depressive phases of the bipolar disorder are so intense that they interfere with everyday life. When an individual has a depressive episode, he has a feeling of worthlessness, a loss of interest in family, friends, job, and activities in general. When an individual enters a manic episode, this person becomes overactive, with symptoms of grandiose optimism and self-esteem that may lead to reckless investment, spending sprees, and unsafe sex. Myers argues that individuals with bipolar disorder might need protection from their own poor judgment.[3]
The DSM-IV-TR indicates that a major concern in bipolar disorder is the risk of suicide when an individual is in a depressive episode. Other associated problems include alcohol and substance use, divorce, school and occupational failure, episodic antisocial behavior, and psychotic features.
As for most of psychological disorder, the etiology of this disorder includes diverse factors in the causes of this disorder. Among those causes are social factors, stress, cognitive vulnerability, and biological factors like genetics, neuroendocrinal problems, neurotransmitters variations.[4] .
Even though there is variation in the prevalence rate from one country to another (0.1% in Nigeria, 3.3% in the United States), the severity, impact, and patterns of comorbidity are similar all over the world;[5] however, treatment is not available for all individuals because of poverty and only 25.2% of individuals in low-income countries reported contact with mental health system. The cross-country variations regarding prevalence may be related to differences in diagnostic methods, or may reflect true differences in disease prevalence.
The treatment in Western societies is mainly based on medication such as lithium, anti-depressants, and mood stabilizers, with variable success. [6]

Online resources

National Institute of Mental Health
Bipolar Disorder Statistics


Medical Anthropology Research

Bipolar disorder has not yet received in-depth attention from a range of medical anthropologists. The most important research has been conducted by Emily Martin. In her book, Bipolar Expeditions,[7] Emily Martin examines the opposition between the rationality and insanity of an individual with bipolar disorder. Since mania is also associated with creativity, Martin suggests that there might be a distinction between mania as a sickness and mania as a behavioral trait. She questions the boundaries between normal and abnormal. Martin considers mania as a cultural phenomenon; she explores the influence of mania in westerner culture in domains like mental health care, pharmaceutical industry, capitalism, and financial markets.
More research needs to be done and particularly on alternative treatments.

Applied Work

No specific applied anthropology work found.


  1. ^ Marneros, A., and Jules Angst
    2000 Bipolar Disorders : 100 Years After Manic-depressive Insanity: Kluwer Academic Publishers
  2. ^ Marneros, A., and Jules Angst
    2000 Bipolar Disorders : 100 Years After Manic-depressive Insanity: Kluwer Academic Publishers
  3. ^ Myers, David G.
    2004 Psychology / David G. Myers. New York, NY: Worth Publishers
  4. ^ Oltmanns, Thomas F., and Robert E. Emery
    2001 Abnormal psychology / Thomas F. Oltmanns, Robert E. Emery. Upper Saddle River, N.J: Prentice Hall
  5. ^ Merikangas, Kathleen R., et al.
    2011 Prevalence and Correlates of Bipolar Spectrum Disorder in the World Mental Health Survey Initiative. Arch Gen Psychiatry 68(3):241-251
  6. ^ Marneros, A., and Jules Angst
    2000 Bipolar Disorders : 100 Years After Manic-depressive Insanity: Kluwer Academic Publishers
  7. ^ Martin, Emily2009 Bipolar Expeditions [electronic resource] : Mania and Depression in American Culture. Princeton: Princeton University Press