Manic depression, also known as bipolar disorder, is a type of affective disorder or mood disorder that causes people to alternate between episodes of extreme elation, elevated mood or irritability (also called mania) and periods of depression. In many people, episodes of either depression or mania are followed by periods of normal functioning.
Quite different from the usual “ups and downs” most people experience, these changes can result in deteriorating performance at work or school, fragmented relationships or even suicide.
When a mood swings up into a mental state called mania, invariably it will swing down into depression, and vice versa. If the mania is mild (hypomania), people with manic depression function pretty well. They’re creative, energetic and goal-oriented – behavior easy to characterize as normal.
Full-blown mania, however, is hard to miss. People in this state can’t focus. They live on very little sleep and engage in risk-taking behaviors like speeding, overspending or hypersexuality. “They think they are invincible,” says psychiatrist Shanthi Lewis, MD, with Lehigh Valley Health Network, “which leads to reckless decisions. They’re impulsive and irritable with a low frustration tolerance and are likely to hurt themselves or others.” Since mania feels good, people with bipolar disorder often resist the treatment they need, or abandon it when they’re not on the depressed end of the pendulum.
Manic depression affects more than 5.7 million American adults, or about 2.6 percent of Americans age 18 and older in a given year. When symptoms are present before the age of 12, they are often confused with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a syndrome that usually is characterized by serious and persistent difficulties resulting in inattentiveness or distractibility, impulsivity and hyperactivity.
Affecting men and women equally (although women are more likely to experience more depressive and less manic symptoms), manic depression often begins in adolescence or early adulthood. The average age of onset is 25.
Manic depression is likely to run in families, and in some cases is believed to be hereditary. Researchers are still undergoing intense research to identify a gene that may be responsible for this disorder.