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Why is bipolar disorder not considered a disease?

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Quick Answer

The question of whether bipolar disorder is a disease is a matter of semantics. A disease implies a purely medical condition of some sort, while bipolar disorder is a highly complex pathological process that has neurological, psychological, biochemical and social implications, according to Dr. Stephen Diamond for Psychology Today.

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It may be helpful to view bipolar disorder as a lack of socialization rather than as a result of a medical disease, recommends licensed psychologist Dr. Philip Hickey. The comparison of bipolar disorder to a medical disease such as diabetes has implications for treatment, explains Dr. Diamond. Substances, such as lithium, have been proven effective in some, but not all, patients with bipolar disorder. However, treatment of bipolar disorder may sometimes require far more than pharmacological intervention. In fact, some patients require no medical help to treat bipolar disorder or keep manic episodes under control.

Unlike medical diseases, bipolar disorder is not something a patient can acquire in one day, notes Dr. Hickey. It is the result of a long and gradual pathological process that may take many months or years. Too often, the desire to classify bipolar disorder as a disease is an oversimplification and may cause more harm than good.

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