Debunking Common Myths About Manic Depression
February 17, 2021
Manic depression, also known as bipolar disorder, is a mental health condition generally defined by sudden shifts in mood, the experience of manic and depressive episodes, and occasional balanced episodes of euthymia. Depressive episodes can leave one feeling hopeless, sad, and disinterested in most activities, while manic and hypomanic episodes may leave one feeling energetic, irritable, and erratic. Shifts between these episodes can occur rarely or over the course of days and weeks, sometimes with periods of euthymia between.
Though manic depression is a well-recognized mental disorder, there are a variety of myths and misconceptions about the disorder and those diagnosed with it. Read down below to witness the most common bipolar disorder myths being debunked and learn about the ways in which the disorder can be treated.
Myth: Manic depression is just mood swings
Fact: Manic depression entails a wide variety of disordered symptoms
Disordered moods are generally the most well-known symptoms of manic depression, but there is much more behind a diagnosis. Some mood-related symptoms include mood swings between sadness, hopelessness, and apathy during depressive episodes as well as elevated mood, anxiety, and euphoria during mania.
However, manic depression affects patients beyond their mood and can permeate other aspects of their psyche and daily lives. Below are other symptoms that patients may display:
Increased interest in risk-taking
Undesired thought patterns
Rapid and racing thoughts
Grand beliefs of superiority
Myth: Manic episodes are fun and productive
Fact: Mania doesn’t always feel good or positive
The general conception of mania in bipolar disorder is that it’s the total opposite of depression. Following this logic, if depression is dark and sad then mania must be positive and fun. The truth is that mania can be just as negative and counterproductive as depressive symptoms.
Mania is loosely defined by high energy, increased self-confidence, and abnormal upbeatness--however, the downside to such extreme tendencies is that manic episodes can lead to loss of needed sleep and rapid, risky decision-making that can be life-changing. In extreme cases mania can induce psychosis, or a psychological break from reality, which may require hospitalization.
The idea of having more energy and the desire to perform a vast array of tasks sounds enticing in theory, but the lack of control and awareness during manic episodes is what makes them comparably disordered as depression. Examples of common manic behaviors include extreme money-spending and shopping sprees or acting out on psychological delusions.
Myth: There’s only one type of bipolar disorder
Fact: There are three types of bipolar disorder
Most people are aware that manic depression is loosely defined by swings between depression and mania, but there are still complexities to components of the disorder. These complex differences define the three disparate types of manic depression: bipolar I, bipolar II, and cyclothymic disorder. When one experiences the common symptoms of bipolar disorder, a mental health professional can help them determine which type they’re grappling with.
Bipolar I Disorder
Those with bipolar I disorder must have experienced at least one manic episode that preceded or followed an episode of either hypomania, which is a less intense version of mania, or major depression.
Bipolar II Disorder
For those diagnosed with bipolar II disorder, there must have been at least one major depressive episode and one episode of hypomania--however, there must be no experiences of mania. Bipolar II isn’t a milder version of bipolar I disorder due to the lack of mania experienced. They are just separate diagnoses.
To qualify for a cyclothymic disorder diagnosis, there must be at least one to two years of many hypomanic and depressive episodes. The depressive symptoms in this diagnosis are milder than those in major depression.
Myth: Only adults can be diagnosed
Fact: A diagnosis can be made in children as young as six
When people imagine a patient of manic depression, the image that comes to mind is likely of an adult. However, people under eighteen can also be diagnosed--and symptoms in children and teens can manifest in a slightly different way from adults.
Generally diagnosing mental disorders in children can be complex due to their lack of ability to understand or communicate their symptoms and the difference in symptom patterns from adults. With the many mood and psychological changes that begin in adolescence, diagnosing manic depression can also be difficult. For both young children and teens, the results of stresses and traumas potentially experienced can sometimes mimic the symptoms of manic depression as well.
One of the symptomatic differences of manic depression between age groups include adolescents having more rapid shifting between episodes. In comparison, adults’ episodes tend to last for days or weeks.
Myth: Manic depression results from a lack of self-control
Fact: Those diagnosed are at the will of their symptoms
Like any other medical or mental condition, manic depression isn’t within a person’s control or a choice. Many symptoms of manic depression are unwanted by the person diagnosed and result from factors way beyond a patient’s scope of control. People without a mental disorder generally have more influence over their moods, energy levels, and awareness of thoughts or actions--but it’s a common and misguided mistake to hold those with manic depression to these same expectations.
Those diagnosed with manic depression can’t simply exert control and influence over their mental state, behaviors, and thoughts to reduce the severity of their symptoms. It’s necessary to seek treatment from mental health professionals to start on the road to symptom recovery. Treatment can help reduce and control symptoms in ways that a patient can’t do on their own.
Treatment Options for Manic Depression
Psychiatric medications such as mood stabilizers and antipsychotics are typically prescribed to treat symptoms of depression and mania in manic depression respectively. Most may assume that antidepressants alone can help with bipolar depression, but depressive symptoms in bipolar patients being chemically different from those of major depression patients explains the difference in treatment. Antidepressants can actually exacerbate symptoms or trigger a manic episode, and it’s essential for those with manic depression to avoid taking these meds by themselves.
As is the case with any mental disorder, the misconception that psychiatric medication can provide a cure is untrue. Manic depression symptoms can be treated or relieved with medication so long as the person diagnosed takes meds consistently according to their treatment plan. Consulting with a psychiatrist can help anyone with a diagnosis best understand the effects of medication on their specific symptoms. A common and detrimental mistake that many with manic depression make is ceasing the use of their psychiatric meds once their symptoms start to improve. Symptoms can only improve and remain better under the influence of medication. Stopping one’s meds suddenly can lead to symptom relapse and jeopardize one’s health.
Psychotherapy can be helpful in reducing symptom severity and preventing future episodes, especially when used in combination with psychiatric treatments. Therapy can help manic depression patients to discuss the problematic thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that exacerbate symptoms. Therapists can also help those with more severe symptoms remain motivated and consistent in taking their medications.
Behavioral therapy can help patients decrease the stress that results from their symptomatic behaviors. Cognitive therapy can address and change the thought patterns that may trigger shifts in moods. Interpersonal therapy focuses on understanding and repairing relationships that may be affected by one’s symptoms. Social rhythm therapy targets the disordered sleep patterns of the insomnia or hypersomnia symptoms of manic depression while helping patients maintain healthy daily routines.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) Therapy
TMS therapy as a treatment option for bipolar depression is making waves with the FDA this year. Research has supported the efficacy of TMS in targeting brain areas of irregular activity for patients of bipolar I and II, specifically for those whose symptoms are generally resistant to psychiatric meds. TMS uses magnetic pulses to stimulate and adjust the areas of the brain that regulate mood. The magnetic pulses can influence levels in brain chemistry and communication between brain chemicals to reduce depressive symptoms for bipolar patients.
TMS is a safe, non-invasive treatment option for depressive symptoms in manic depression. Patients can receive TMS therapy at a clinic or outpatient hospital location, and the frequency of TMS sessions will vary per individual treatment plan. TMS clinics can also personalize effective treatment plans to provide the most impactful intervention for every patient.
Manic depression is a complex mental disorder that has countless inaccurate assumptions and misconceptions in popular culture. With this article, those diagnosed can take some comfort in others receiving accurate information about the disorder and knowing of the various treatment options that can provide them with symptom relief.