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The Difference Between Manic Depression & Clinical Depression

With the death of Robin Williams, people are becoming more and more aware of how serious of a condition really depression is. As difficult as may be to believe, many of the world’s greatest comedians suffer from extreme depression. We all experience some form of being depressed during our lifetime, but depression can become so much more difficult disease to control than most of us realize. It’s no surprise that depression is often times linked with suicide or attempted suicide. In fact:

  • The strongest risk factor for suicide is depression.
  • 80% of people that seek treatment for depression are treated successfully.
  • 15% of those who are clinically depressed die by suicide.

Sometimes people are confused about the differences between clinical depression and manic depression. And it’s no wonder, they both have the word “depression” in their names. That’s one of the reason’s manic depression’s clinical name changed to “bipolar disorder” several years ago, to more clearly distinguish it from regular depression.

The difference is really quite simple, though. Manic depression, or bipolar disorder,  includes clinical depression as a part of its diagnosis. You can’t have bipolar disorder without also having had an episode of clinical depression. That’s why the two disorders shared similar names for many years, because they both include the component of clinical depression.

These are common signs and symptoms of depression:

  • Feeling sad and unhappy for an uninterrupted period of at least 2 weeks
  • Crying for no reason
  • Feeling worthless
  • Having very little energy
  • Losing interest in pleasurable activities

Because both depression and bipolar disorder share this commonality, somewhere between 10 to 25% of people with bipolar disorder are first mistakenly diagnosed with only depression. It’s only when the professional learns more about the person and their history do they later discover episodes of either mania or hypomania.

So what separates manic depression from regular depression?

Bipolar disorder is a complex disorder that likely stems from a combination of genetic and non-genetic factors. The mood episodes associated with it involve clinical depression or mania (extreme elation and high energy) with periods of normal mood and energy in between episodes. The severity of mood episodes can range from very mild to extreme, and they can happen gradually or suddenly within a timeframe of days to weeks.

  • Feeling overly happy, excited or confident
  • Feeling extremely irritable, aggressive and “wired”
  • Having uncontrollable racing thoughts or speech
  • Thinking of yourself as overly important, gifted or special
  • Making poor judgments, such as with money, relationships or gambling
  • Engaging in risky behavior or taking more risks than you ordinarily would

A person with is experiencing the lesser form of mania — hypomania — may only experience a few of these symptoms, or their symptoms are far less severe and life-impairing. A person with clinical depression experiences none of these symptoms.

On top of all of that, there are several different types of bi-polar disorder. Each type is identified by the pattern of episodes of mania and depression. The treatment that is best for you may differ depending on the type of bipolar disorder you have. Your doctor will look carefully to determine where your symptoms fit.

  • Bipolar I Disorder (mania and depression) – Bipolar I disorder is the classic form of the illness, as well as the most severe type of bipolar disorder. It is characterized by at least one manic episode or mixed episode. The vast majority of people with bipolar I disorder have also experienced at least one episode of major depression, although this isn’t required for diagnosis.
  • Bipolar II Disorder (hypomania and depression) – Mania is not involved in bipolar II disorder. Instead, the illness involves recurring episodes of major depression and hypomania, a milder form of mania. In order to be diagnosed with bipolar II disorder, you must have experienced at least one hypomanic episode and one major depressive episode in your lifetime. If you ever have a manic episode, your diagnosis would be changed to bipolar I disorder.
  • Cyclothymia (hypomania and mild depression) – Cyclothymia is a milder form of bipolar disorder. Like bipolar disorder, cyclothymia consists of cyclical mood swings. However, the highs and lows are not severe enough to qualify as either mania or major depression. To be diagnosed with cyclothymia, you must experience numerous periods of hypomania and mild depression over at least a two-year time span. Because people with cyclothymia are at an increased risk of developing full-blown bipolar disorder, it is a condition that should be monitored and treated.

If you feel that you or someone you know may have Bi-Polar disorder, please seek immediate help. If your doctor determines that you have bipolar disorder, he or she will explain your treatment options and possibly prescribe medication for you to take. You may also be referred to another mental health professional, such as a psychologist, counselor, or a bipolar disorder specialist. Together, you will work with your healthcare providers to develop a personalized treatment plan. Most people with bipolar disorder need medication in order to keep their symptoms under control. When medication is continued on a long-term basis, it can reduce the frequency and severity of bipolar mood episodes, and sometimes prevent them entirely.

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