Over the years bipolar disorder has come to be better understood and re-classified into three different categories. But in the beginning, it was often referred to as “manic depression” which has, unfortunately, proven to be confusing to the average person. There is a significant difference between “depression” and “manic depression,” and confusing the two can lead to serious problems for patients and the people in their lives. So, what is the difference between manic depression and depression?
First, let’s start with the medical definitions of depression vs mania. Depression is clinically defined as a state of mental being that embodies a sense of loss, sadness, frustration, lack of energy and sense of despair that is long term and so severe that it interferes with the daily life of the sufferer. People who suffer from depression often sleep more than most people, have trouble being interested in daily life, have extremely low energy and have to really work at getting out of bed and living every day. Extreme cases of depression can include psychotic symptoms such as auditory or visual hallucinations.
Mania, on the other hand, is characterized by an over-inflated sense of energy, irritability, lack of sleep, talkativeness and an attitude of ambition and invulnerability. People suffering from mania may go days without sleeping, have a sudden and intense increase in productivity, may find themselves reacting more strongly than usual to various emotions and are often absolutely certain that they can and will succeed with whatever it is they are trying to do. Oftentimes this includes dangerous risk taking, whether those risks are in their sexual adventures, monetarily or physically dangerous just depends on that person’s personality. In extreme cases, the person becomes psychotic and suffers from hallucinations, both auditory and visual.
Now that we’ve covered the definitions of depression and mania, we can better understand the differences between what was called “manic depression” and what is called “depression”. Manic depression, better described today as Bipolar Disorder, is a condition characterized by a person suffering from extremes that swing back and forth between mania and depression. There are three different types of bipolar disorder: Type 1, Type 2 and Cyclothymia. The first type is the one most people are thinking of when talking about “manic depression”. To be diagnosed with Type 1 bipolar disorder, a person must be observed by a medical practitioner as being in a manic state. With at least one manic episode and suffering from periods of depression, a person can be diagnosed as having bipolar disorder type 1. Type 2 is characterized by symptoms very similar to type 1 with the exception that the patient never experiences full-blown, extreme mania. Instead, the patient oscillates between depression and hypomania, which is similar to being manic except doesn’t include the more extreme symptoms such as indiscriminate risk taking or episodes of hallucination. Cyclothymia, the third type, is quite similar to type 2 bipolar disorder in that it involves mood swings that go back and forth between depression and hypomania however, Cyclothymia can actually involve these cycles through one day instead of over a period of months or years. As such, Cyclothymia is exceedingly difficult to diagnose and many people suffering from Cyclothymia are incorrectly diagnosed as suffering from a major depressive disorder.
Depression, on the other hand, is not characterized by mania in any form at all. As soon as a manic episode occurs, the condition can no longer be classified as depression alone and will be instead treated as bipolar disorder.
The differences between the two conditions are quite significant as the medications used to treat bipolar disorder can produce radically different (and even dangerous) results in patients who do not suffer from mania. Conversely, for patients who suffer from bipolar disorder, being treated with medications intended to regulate depressive disorders can actually throw them into a manic episode which can, in fact, threaten their lives. In either situation, close observation from a doctor is absolutely necessary to be sure that the patient in question has been correctly diagnosed and is therefore being correctly treated. It is therefore vitally important that people who may have, or are thought to have, either bipolar disorder or depression seek treatment from a qualified physician in order to avoid a possibly dangerous incident.