What is Manic Depression?

Mary McMahon

Manic depression, more properly known as bipolar disorder, is a mood disorder characterized by extremes of mood. People with manic depression go through periods of uplifted mood known as mania, as well as periods of depression. This condition can be seriously debilitating or even life-threatening, and it can disrupt the lives of the people around the patient. A number of treatment approaches are available for manic depression, and there is no reason to suffer from this condition without help.

Sleeplessness may be experienced during a "high" period of manic depression.
Sleeplessness may be experienced during a "high" period of manic depression.

People with bipolar disorder can experience periods of depression and mania in which they are highly energized, enthusiastic, and optimistic, or hypomania, a slightly more subdued form of classic mania. These periods can last for days or weeks, and be followed by a period of normal behavior, or a plunge into depression. When patients rapidly flip back and forth between mania and depression, they are said to have “rapid cycling” bipolar disorder. Patients can also experience a mixed state form of manic depression, in which they feel both extremes at once.

Individuals with manic depression experience moments of mania and depression.
Individuals with manic depression experience moments of mania and depression.

Like other mood disorders, there is no simple test for manic depression, and many people go undiagnosed. Diagnosis relies on a series on interviews with a mental health professional who can discuss the situation with the patient and arrive at a diagnosis. Someone with bipolar I has experienced at least one episode of mania, while individuals with bipolar II have demonstrated hypomania and depression. Cyclothymia involves a less severe cycling between hypomania and mild depression.

Many people suffering from manic depression go undiagnosed.
Many people suffering from manic depression go undiagnosed.

Psychotherapy can sometimes help people address manic depression, as it may provide coping and management skills for dealing with mood extremes. Some people also take medications which are designed to adjust their brain chemistry, as imbalances in the brain are believed to be responsible for manic depression. Shock therapy has also been effective for some patients, along with alternative medical approaches like acupuncture. Some patients may opt for hospitalization or be hospitalized by a doctor out of concern for their wellbeing, usually with the goal of a temporary stay which allows the patient to regain equilibrium.

People with bipolar disorder often experience mixed episodes in addition to depression and mania.
People with bipolar disorder often experience mixed episodes in addition to depression and mania.

The causes of manic depression are not fully understood. The condition usually emerges in the patient's teens, and it can be brought on by intense life experiences or drug and alcohol abuse, but not always. There may be a genetic component, as people from families with a history of mood disorders are more likely to develop manic depression.

Neglect can lead to manic depression.
Neglect can lead to manic depression.

People who experience psychological symptoms should consider getting help, even if the symptoms are not severe or debilitating. Conditions like manic depression can get worse if they are not addressed, and an early diagnosis can help a patient take control of the issue.

Manic depression is now referred to as bipolar disorder.
Manic depression is now referred to as bipolar disorder.
There is no simple treatment for manic depression.
There is no simple treatment for manic depression.
People dealing with manic depression often engage in self destructive behavior.
People dealing with manic depression often engage in self destructive behavior.

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Discussion Comments

bythewell

@croydon - I think a manic depression support group is a good idea for people who think they might have the condition as well. Even if you aren't sure, it can't hurt to go along and hear other people's stories. It can help you to feel like you aren't alone and it can give you hints and tips as to how you might be able to control your own symptoms.

I think there are some things that are very difficult to understand from an outside perspective and often people with this kind of disorder might feel isolated from their friends and family. If you've got a support group, you have people who will understand what you're going through.

croydon

@browncoat - You know, there are support groups for people with friends and family who have manic depression symptoms. There are a few good books out there as well, about dealing with a person who happens to have a mental illness.

It's OK to feel overwhelmed, because it is an enormous burden, especially before the person seeks help. And there isn't much sympathy in the world for people with this kind of condition, either, which is a real pity.

browncoat

My sister is a manic depressive and it can really be awful for the family. I would say even more so than the person suffering from it in some cases, although that might make me sound selfish.

But it is the family that has to protect them while they are going through the manic phases and are capable of anything. And it can be so frustrating and confusing when you don't know they are sick, and only know that they constantly lie and fight and are on top of the world one day, but suicidal the next.

She's getting help now, thank goodness but it was a rocky road to get there.

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