What’s in A Name? A History of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is estimated to affect almost 5% of the adults in the United States, and almost 90% of those affected have an advanced case. That said, many of those afflicted do not seek treatment because of a severe social stigma surrounding the disorder and other mental health disorders like it. Moreover, those who do seek treatment are often treated either inappropriately for the disorder, or their treatment doesn’t go far enough to actually help the patient.

Bipolar disorder has been around throughout history and has gone through many different names and understandings. As it continues to be studied and understood, the disorder continues to shift in moniker. Here’s a brief overview of names for the disorder.

Mania and Melancholia

Bipolar disorder has been studied since before the Greco-Roman society started giving the disorder a name, “mania and melancholia”. This is also when lithium began being used as treatment for people with the disorder. They used lithium salts in baths to calm the manic stages of the disorder.

Folie Circulaire

In 1854 Jean-Pierre Falret coined the term “folie circulaire” which directly translates to circular insanity to describe the cycle of manic and depressive episodes. It is in discussions of his work in English that the term “manic-depressive psychosis” became commonly used.


In the 1950’s Karl Leonhard used the term bipolar in order to distinguish it from unipolar depression. This term was adopted in the third edition of the DSM as a more clinical definition and to move away from using the term “Maniac” to describe patients afflicted with the disorder.


Bipolar Spectrum – As always, research on bipolar disorder continue and another name change, though less substantial in nature, helps us understand the disorder better. Bipolar disorder is now being referred to among some psychiatrists as Bipolar Spectrum Disorder, indicating that there is space between the poles of mania and despair.


People with bipolar disorder are more likely to develop a chemical dependency. At FHE we offer treatment for this kind of co-occurring disorder at our affordable rehab in Florida, alcohol detox in South Florida and drug rehabilitation are also offered. Combined with neuro treatments, we provide quality care and sustainable life skills training for a more successful recovery rate. Contact us today


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