About 1 per cent of the population is
diagnosed with manic depression, writes Natalie Valios. They
experience extreme mood swings of highs and lows, although the
frequency and severity of mood cycles varies from person to person.
Some people will only have a couple of episodes of mania during
their life, others will have four or more episodes of mania a year.
It can develop in men and women of any age, but commonly occurs
when people are in their twenties and thirties.
As yet there is no consensus on the cause and
it takes an average of 10 years for an accurate diagnosis. Two
bodies of thought point to an inherited disposition to developing
manic depression or to stressful life events.
Lithium is the most commonly prescribed drug
to help stabilise moods. Mental health organisations also recommend
cognitive therapy, counselling and self-management to help control
symptoms – there is no cure.
The most common form of manic depression is
bipolar affective disorder, which involves both highs and lows. A
diagnosis of unipolar affective disorder is given to those who
experience just the depressive phase. The high, or mania, is
characterised by feelings of euphoria, inability to sleep, talking
quickly, irritability and spending large sums of money. They can
also have delusions. During the depressive period, which usually
follows a manic episode, people have feelings of emptiness, loss of
energy and motivation. They can also have suicidal thoughts.
Hypomania is a less severe form of mania. Most
people with this diagnosis do not have a subsequent depressive
episode, and they will not experience delusions.