A relatively rare type of depression, bipolar disorder or manic depression affects about 1% of the population.
The “manic” in manic depression involves an exhilarating period of heightened physical and mental energy. The manic phase of bipolar disorder can last for days or even weeks, and can spin out of control into a delusional state. Sometimes people in the manic phase get huge amounts of work done – they can be quite productive.
Other symptoms of the manic phase include exaggerated optimism, grandiose delusions, aggressive behavior, increased irritability, racing speech, impulsiveness, poor judgment, reckless behavior, and distractibility.
The “depression” in manic depression occurs when the person crashes into a depressive episode. This phase involves excessive amounts of sleep, lethargy, and exhaustion. Symptoms of depression phase include appetite and sleep changes, morbid thoughts, impaired concentration, loss of interest, and slower motor skills.
Bipolar disorder is cyclical, which means that these manic and depressive stages are staggered with normal periods. Most people who struggle with manic depression do enter into normal periods of mood, functioning, and behavior (as compared with people who don’t struggle with manic depression).
Bipolar is challenging to treat because different treatments are needed for different phases of manic depression.
Lithium salts have proved to be effective in leveling out the mood swings in the manic phase of manic depression. Lithium is most effective when the person struggling with bipolar has a stable routine (travel, stressful situations, and irregular sleep and wake times can interfere with how lithium works as a treatment for manic depression).
Antidepressants are sometimes used to treat the depressive phase of bipolar disorder, but drugs such as Zoloft or Prozac can trigger a manic episode.
There are many new drugs that treat bipolar disorder. The only way to figure out what works best for any individual is to talk to the doctor and try different medications.
Scientists are trying to isolate the genes associated with manic depression, which offers implications for treatment of this type of depression. Doctors are studying if manic depression is linked with brain tissue loss, and learning whether acupuncture or other alternative treatments are effective.