Manic depression, no longer the preferred medical term for this mental illness, neatly describes its effects. Bipolar disorder sends a person’s mood seesawing up and down, from euphoric highs (the manic phase) to oppressive lows (the depressive phase), with normal periods in between.
At least two million Americans and perhaps one in one hundred teenagers are afflicted with bipolar disorder or a milder form called cyclothymia. “People with bipolar disorder can be delightful when they’re manic,” says Dr. Charles Irwin, recalling one patient in particular. “He was incredibly successful: president of his high-school class, attended an Ivy League university, graduated in less than four years. The life of the party. But when he crashed, he crashed very badly.” The young man, who never sought treatment, later killed himself. Suicide is a very real concern with adolescents suffering from manic-depressive disorder.
Two other patterns may be seen. In bipolar II disorder, one mood state is dominant: either frequent depression and occasional mania, or vice-versa. Depression and mania occurring together is referred to as a mixed bipolar state.