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  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: August 2009

2 - The bipolar spectrum



An experienced host prepares to serve a ceremonial fowl. The guests look on with anticipation. The knife is sharpened. After he identifies the gap between thigh and body, the carving proceeds neatly. This image is often invoked in discussions of diagnostic systems, speaking of ‘carving nature at its joints’. But what if the entity in question does not have joints? This is the essence of the bipolar spectrum perspective.

Most diagnostic systems – and many clinicians – categorise illnesses as discrete entities. This monograph has a similar orientation. In focusing on Bipolar II Disorder (BP II), it assumes that this is a distinct condition or entity and able to be distinguished from other putatively categorical mood disorders (particularly Bipolar I Disorder (BP I) and unipolar depression). But what if BP II is not an entity but rather a point on a continuous spectrum of mood disorders? This chapter examines such a proposition.

At least eight recent reviews have been written on the bipolar spectrum concept – including a chapter by the chairman of the International Society for Bipolar Disorder (ISBD) Diagnostic Guidelines Task Force (Ghaemi et al., 2006); and a review with recommendations for changes to the DSM–IV, prepared for that Task Force by this author and colleagues (Phelps et al., 2007); as well as six other cogent overviews (Katzow et al., 2003; Dunner, 2003; Moller and Curtis, 2004; Angst and Cassano, 2005; Mondimore, 2005; Skeppar and Adolfsson, 2006).

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