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What is manic-depressive illness?

Symptoms of manic-depressive disorder

Manic-depressive illness is the most severe form of bipolar disorder. It is characterized by wide swings in mood, energy level, and need for sleep.

Manic episodes generally develop rapidly, often over the course of a few days or, on occasion, a few hours. Onset is usually more rapid with each succeeding episode. The episodes typically last four to twelve months. Early in the manic phase, a person will feel on top of the world, exuberant, and wildly self-confident. He is more energetic, needs less sleep, and may be quite productive for a time.

Manic depressiveThoughts race, and the person is filled with ideas and plans. Speech becomes rapid. As the manic episode goes on, a person usually becomes increasingly agitated, irritable, and eventually hostile and explosive. Thoughts become disorganized. Eventually, a person may begin to have grandiose and paranoid delusions (false beliefs). He may become convinced that he is God or that the mob is after him.

Patients in the depressed phase characteristically become very lethargic and unmotivated and tend to oversleep. They complain of feeling heavy, as if their arms and legs were made of lead. Episodes of depression generally last longer than manic episodes. The switches between episodes of mania and depression are typically rapid.

In bipolar II disorder, a person has major depressive episodes combined with less severe manic episodes referred to as hypomania. Someone with the mild bipolar disorder called cyclothymia has comparatively mild, yet troubling, mood swings. He or she is often looked upon by others as moody or difficult. As is the case with dysthymia, a person suffering from cyclothymia is often misdiagnosed as having a personality disorder by mental health professionals.

Bipolar disorders were originally considered to be much less prevalent than unipolar disorders. However, if you add up the patients with bipolar II and bipolar I disorders, the breakdown is about two-thirds unipolar and one-third bipolar. Some researchers believe the combined frequency of all forms of bipolar disorder (bipolar I, bipolar II, and cyclothymia) is equal to that of the unipolar disorders.

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