Moment Of Clarity

Bipolar Disorder: What Is It Exactly?

Bipolar spelled out in refrigerator magnets. Concept art.
Credit: Thinkstock

We understand.  Sometimes, problems with romantic relationships,  friendships, career or family life get you down. And we want to help. That’s why JET is working with therapist, Jinnie Cristerna, who will take your questions and offer some sage, sanity-restoring advice and insight every week.

Jinnie Cristerna, LCSW, CHt.

Jinnie Cristerna, LCSW, CHt.

Bipolar disorder affects at least 2.6 percent of the American adult population and has been receiving a significant amount of attention over the last five years – especially in the African American community. While Bipolar Disorder is still under diagnosed in African-Americans, there has been a sharp rise in the public sharing of bipolar diagnosis in prominent African-American professionals and celebrities including: Chris Brown, Jesse Jackson, Jenifer Lewis, and Maia Campbell.

While it is possible to live a healthy and emotionally balanced life with bipolar disorder, the harsh effects of the disorder are still present and should never be underestimated.  In 2013, the impact of bipolar disorder was felt when acclaimed cook Josh Marks took his life at the age of 26.

There has been a sharp increase in wanting to learn more about bipolar disorder within the African-American community and this blog is dedicated to helping raise awareness. This is best done by consulting with and learning from a licensed clinical social worker, a clinical psychologist, or psychiatrist, or other licensed clinical mental health professional.

First, it should be understood that bipolar disorder is not a single disorder; it is comprised of three main categories that make up what is called, the bipolar spectrum.  These three diagnoses are: Bipolar I, Bipolar II, and Cyclothymic Disorder.

In Bipolar I, an individual must have at least one manic episode that last at least one week. Manic episode are often felt as being in a state of excitement, excessive happiness, thoughts that come so quickly you may be unable to keep up with them, engaging in reckless behavior like unprotected sex, and inflated self-esteem or sense of superiority. The individual also experiences depressive episodes where they feel sad, irritable, loses interest in things he or she once had pleasure experiencing, sleeping, eating, weight loss/gain of more than a 5 percent change, and recurring thoughts of death or suicide. In this diagnosis, the individual experiences a few more depressive episodes than manic episodes.

If left untreated, a person usually has erratic cycles that fluctuate between depression and mania; however, the depression is experienced more often than the mania.

In Bipolar II, the mania is a lot milder and is referred to as hypomania. Hypomania can last for an extended period of time and is often mistaken for typical ‘happiness.’ The difference here is that the depression is very heavy and experienced more than in Bipolar I and is often mistaken as and diagnosed as depression.

In Cyclothymic Disorder, the depressive symptoms do not meet the full criteria of major depression and the hypomania (in bipolar II) alternates more with the depression often.

Secondly, proper treatment for the disorder is key to managing the disorder and its risks associated. While many people feel comfortable consulting pastors, teachers, and friends it is important to understand that only a licensed clinical mental health professional is able to diagnose the disorder and provide proper treatment. While medication is part of the treatment, ongoing psychotherapy is strongly recommended to help the patient manage the symptoms, reduce risks associated with the disorder, and live fully.

Thirdly, it’s important to shatter the stigma of mental illness. While African-Americans struggle with the stigma of mental illness, they are not alone. Many cultures attach stigma to mental illness and it is costing us the lives and health of our loved ones. Please know that having a good psychotherapist is key not only to treating mental illness, but also to managing one’s emotional wellness.

In fact, a number of successful professionals seek the support of a psychotherapist to ensure they are maintaining their emotional wellness. The reality is that if one does not address issues as they arise; the cumulative effect of those issues can result in conditions like depression. You may not need to go in every week but having a therapist on call to maintain your mental health and work through issues as they arise is worth its weight in gold.

As always, I hope this was helpful. Please share this with others, as you never know who could benefit from learning.

With love and light …


Do you have a question for our “Moment of Clarity” JET Therapist, Jinnie? Email us at We’ll be sure to keep it anonymous and confidential. 

Jinnie Cristerna, affectionately known as “The High Achievers Therapist”, works with talented people to help them release emotional pain and psychological roadblocks so they can achieve their personal and professional goals. Specializing in psychotherapy, heart centered hypnotherapy, vibrational energy, meditation, and personality development, Jinnie has a nearly 90% success rate with her clients.  Sign up for Jinnie’s High Achiever newsletter here or join her on Facebook and Twitter!