Bipolar Disorder -V- Depression

How Manic Depression Differs From Depression
By Chris Iliades, MD
Medically reviewed by Cynthia Haines, MD

Manic depression, an older term for bipolar disorder, is sometimes confused with depression.

Everyone has mood swings. These are the normal highs and lows that we all go through at times. But if you have manic depression, these mood swings are extreme and are symptoms of a serious but treatable illness. Today, manic depression is usually called bipolar disorder. The word “bipolar” is used because a person with manic depression experiences moods that swing uncontrollably between two extremes, a “pole” of depression and a “pole” of excitement.

Manic depression is a long-term illness that usually starts before age 25. It affects about six million adult Americans, but can also be seen in childhood. People with typical depression, or what’s called clinical or major depression, have similar depressive symptoms, but they don’t experience the highs that people with manic depression have.

Manic Depression and Depression: Shared Symptoms

Symptoms of clinical depression and manic depression that are similar include:

• Feeling sad for a long time
• Crying for no reason
• Feeling worthless
• Having very little energy
• Losing interest in pleasurable activities

Because the low periods are so similar, about 10 to 25 percent of people with manic depression are first diagnosed with clinical depression.

Manic Depression and Depression: Different Symptoms

The “manic” symptoms of bipolar disorder that make it different from clinical depression include:

• Feeling overly happy, excited, and, confident
• Feeling irritable, aggressive, and “wired”
• Having uncontrollable racing thoughts or speech
• Thinking of yourself as very important, gifted, or special
• Making poor judgments
• Engaging in risky behavior

Children or adolescents with manic depression may display hyperactive behavior. Teenagers are likely to engage in anti-social or risky behaviors involving sex, alcohol, or drugs. Unlike people with major depression, those with manic depression are less likely to be able to go about their normal activities and are more likely to think about suicide.

Manic Depression: Bipolar Disorder Classifications

The low periods of manic depression are sometimes referred to as “unipolar depression.” The high periods are usually experienced less frequently than the low periods, and people are more likely to seek help to get out of a low period. Types of manic depression include: • Bipolar I disorder. This term refers to manic depression that includes high or mixed periods that last at least seven days or are extremely severe. These people usually have depressive periods that last about two weeks.
• Bipolar II disorder. In this type of manic depression the person has depression, but the high periods are less extreme.
• Cyclothymic disorder. This term refers to a form of manic depression in which both the high and the low mood swings are milder than in the other types of manic depression.

Manic Depression: Getting Help

If you have any symptoms of manic depression, the best place to start is with your doctor. Although there is no blood test or brain scan that can tell if you have manic depression, it’s important for your doctor to make sure your symptoms are not caused by another medical condition. Other diseases and problems that are commonly seen with manic depression include:

• Substance abuse
• Post-traumatic stress disorder
• Hyperactivity disorder
• Thyroid disease
• Headache
• Heart disease
• Diabetes

Whether it’s called manic depression or bipolar disorder, this condition is a lifelong, recurrent illness. If you have bipolar disorder, you will need long-term treatment to help you control your mood swings. The good news is that some combination of psychotherapy and medication is usually effective.

The most important thing to know is that manic depression is not a character weakness — it is a treatable illness. If you think you might have manic depression, the first step is to ask for help. © 2009; all rights reserved.


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