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Understanding the Manic Depressive Cycle

Understanding the Manic Depressive Cycle

For those with bipolar disorder, the manic depressive cycle describes the periods of and transitions between depressed and elevated moods. Rather than a smooth transition between two equidistant states, however, manic and depressive episodes often have sudden and unpredictable onsets with a range of severity ratings and transitional periods.

And yet, at the same time, each episode is sustained and distinct. This fact is a key difference between bipolar disorder and other types of mental disorders or syndromes (ADHD, depression, mood dysregulation, etc.) Moreover, an accurate and timely diagnosis is one of the biggest barriers to mental health access for many who suffer from this group of mental health issues.


Two-Way Suffering: Mania and Depression

To be clear, manic depressive is not a kind of depressed mood, but rather the pronounced split between these two poles of subjective mood. On the outside looking in, mania can seem like a pretty good time, but it’s rarely described that way by the individuals after the fact. This is especially true for those who feel completely out of control and/or who lose touch with reality—known as hypermania. In fact, a substantial number of individuals with bipolar disorder actually report their mania as the worse symptom to endure.

More than just what they consider worse, the reasons behind the choice are often revealing. A depressive episode is dominated by more negative feelings and overall mood, but manic episodes often carry the most serious and longest-lasting consequences. Many people also talk about having a bigger negative on the ones they love during times of mania. Nevertheless, severe depression is known as one of the worst subjective experiences an individual can go through. And a depressive episode within a bipolar disorder may be quite severe.

In theory, milder peaks can make the disorder easier to manage but also harder to identify and diagnose. This naturally leads to many individuals who are left unmonitored and untreated. And this is problematic because individuals with this milder form—known as cyclothymia—can eventually develop into full-blown bipolar disorder.


Transitions and Periods of Normal Mood

More than just the peaks, it’s also important to consider the in-between times. These periods, too, are quite variable and individualized. For some people, the transition is actually characterized by overlapping symptoms of mania and depression. Others may experience normal mood for many months or even years between episodes. Each manic depressive course is going to present different challenges. Individuals who recognize their mania is about to subside into depression may pose a serious risk of harming themselves out of desperation. Alternately, individuals who are in the midst of a protracted period of normal mood may become lax in the maintenance and monitoring of their mental health status.


Getting Help for Manic Depressive Disorder

Education is an important component of recognizing manic depressive symptoms, but it’s no substitute for a clinical assessment conducted by a qualified mental health professional. Moreover, even after the disorder is identified, individuals typically struggle or fail to manage the symptoms on their own. Depending on the individual’s current mental health status, an immediate intervention and inpatient psychiatric care may be necessary. From there, a combination treatment of prescription medication and psychotherapy are often effective in managing symptoms long-term. Don’t let any mental illness stigma or feelings of anxiety keep you from getting the help you need.


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