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ADOLESCENT MEDICINE :: Overview of Mood Disorders

Manic Depression/ Bipolar Disorder

What is manic depression?

Manic depression, also known as bipolar disorder, is classified as a type of affective disorder (also called mood disorder) that goes beyond the day's ordinary ups and downs, and is becoming a serious medical condition and important health concern in this country. Manic depression is characterized by periodic episodes of extreme elation, happiness, elevated mood, or irritability (also called mania) countered by periodic, classic major depressive symptoms.

Depression is a mood disorder that involves a adolescent's body, mood, and thoughts. It can affect and disrupt eating, sleeping, or thinking patterns, and is not the same as being unhappy or in a "blue" mood, nor is it a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed or wished away. Adolescents with a depressive illness cannot merely "pull themselves together" and get better. Treatment is often necessary and many times crucial to recovery.

There are three primary types of depression, including:

  • major depression (clinical depression)
  • bipolar disorder (manic depression)
  • dysthymic disorder (dysthymia)

Who is affected by manic depression?

Manic depression affects more than 5.7 million American adults, 18 years of age and older, each year. And, twenty to 30 percent of adult bipolar patients report having their first manic episode before the age of 20. When symptoms are present before the age of 12, they are often confused with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) - a syndrome that is usually characterized by serious and persistent difficulties resulting in inattentiveness or distractibility, impulsivity, and hyperactivity.

Affecting males and females equally (although females are more likely to experience more depressive and less manic symptoms), manic depression often begins in adolescence or early adulthood. Manic depression is beginning to be better recognized in young children, although diagnosis may still be difficult.

Manic depression is likely to run in families and, in some cases, is believed to be hereditary. Family history of substance abuse also increases the risk of developing manic depression. Researchers are still seeking to identify a gene (or genes) that may be responsible for this disorder.

What are the symptoms of manic depression?

The following are the most common symptoms of manic depression. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently.

Depressive symptoms may include:

  • persistent feelings of sadness
  • feeling hopeless or helpless
  • having low self-esteem
  • feeling inadequate
  • excessive guilt
  • feelings of wanting to die
  • loss of interest in usual activities or activities once enjoyed
  • difficulty with relationships
  • sleep disturbances (i.e., insomnia, hypersomnia)
  • changes in appetite or weight
  • decreased energy
  • difficulty concentrating
  • a decrease in the ability to make decisions
  • suicidal thoughts or attempts
  • frequent physical complaints (i.e., headache, stomach ache, fatigue)
  • running away or threats of running away from home
  • hypersensitivity to failure or rejection
  • irritability, hostility, aggression

Manic symptoms may include:

  • overly inflated self-esteem
  • decreased need for rest and sleep
  • increased distractibility and irritability
  • excessive involvement in pleasurable and/or high-risk activities that may result in painful consequences; this may include provocative, aggressive, destructive, or anti-social behavior (i.e., sexual promiscuity, reckless driving, reckless spending, abuse of alcohol and/or drugs).
  • increased talkativeness (may include increase in rate of speech, changes topics quickly, cannot be interrupted)
  • excessive "high" or euphoric feelings
  • severe mood changes including unusually happy or silly, or unusually angry, agitated, or aggressive
  • increased sex drive
  • increased energy level
  • uncharacteristically poor judgment

Some teenagers in a manic phase experience psychotic symptoms including hallucinations and/or delusions.

For a diagnosis of manic depression to be made, an individual must exhibit both depressive and manic symptoms to a varying degree, depending upon the severity of the disorder. The symptoms of manic depression, especially in a teenager, may resemble other problems (i.e., drug abuse, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, delinquency). Always consult your adolescent's physician for a diagnosis.

How is manic depression diagnosed?

Seeking early diagnosis and treatment is crucial to recovery. A diagnosis is often made after a careful psychiatric examination and medical history performed by a psychiatrist or other mental health professional.

Treatment for manic depression:

Specific treatment for manic depression will be determined by your adolescent's physician based on:

  • your adolescent's age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of your adolescent's symptoms
  • your adolescent's tolerance for specific medications or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the condition
  • your opinion or preference

Mood disorders, including manic depression, can often be effectively treated. Treatment should always be based on a comprehensive evaluation of the adolescent and family. Treatment may include one, or more, of the following:

  • medication (i.e., mood-stabilizing medications such as lithium, valproic acid, or carbamazepine, and/or antidepressants)
  • psychotherapy (most often cognitive-behavioral, supportive, psychoeducational, and/or interpersonal therapy)
  • family therapy
  • consultation with the adolescent's school

Parents play a vital supportive role in any treatment process.

Recognizing the varied and extreme mood swings associated with manic depression is crucial in obtaining effective treatment, and avoiding the potentially painful consequences of the reckless, manic behavior.

In most cases, long term, preventive treatment is necessary to stabilize the mood swings associated with manic depression.

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It is important to remember the health information found on this website is for reference only not intended to replace the advice and guidance of your healthcare provider. Always seek the advice of your physician with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.
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