Manic depression is definitely not a stagnant disease. Its boundaries are not unlike the quiet rumble of a low-level earthquake - they're constantly shifting. That means that the current definition of manic depression today undoubtedly will not be the guideposts mental health professionals use ten or even three years from now for diagnosing this disease.

The most clear evidence of this can be seen in the name. Manic depression is used less and less to describe the variant mood swings of depressive states to the ecstatic highs of mania. More health care professionals use the term bipolar disorder.

While the name change didn't officially occur until 1980, a review of the literature on the subject of manic depression shows a subtle shift in thinking from the 1960s onward. It also reveals an important redefining of manic depression itself that nearly demanded a change in name.

The question researchers sought to answer for many years was: Is depression - sometimes referred to as unipolar depression - the same as manic depression? Up until 1980, the scientific community generally regarded these as a single problem. In this way a person who only experience depression automatically qualified for the diagnosis of manic depression. The person did not have to possess any of the mania episodes of manic depression.

Then researchers took a closer look at this categorizing. They discovered that only 20 percent of the individuals diagnosed with manic depression actually ever had an episode of mania. That meant that four out of every five individuals who were diagnosed with manic depression only ever displayed the depressive episodes.

The scientists then decided to redefine the playing field so to speak. They proposed that what was then called manic depression should more properly be broken into two segments. The first they labeled as major depressive disorder - or unipolar depression - reflecting the single symptom of the problem.

The second category they created from manic depression was called bipolar disorder, which more accurately reflected the dual nature of the disorder.

Will these definitions stay the same forever now? Are the symptoms of manic depression now written in stone. It's highly unlikely. Even today doctors are debating this division of manic depression into two distinct classes. Only time will tell what the face of manic depression will look like twenty years from now.


Manic depression, now more formally known as bipolar disorder, is characterized by various levels of depressive states as well as a gamut of mania symptoms. During a manic episode an individual with manic depression may feel so full of self confidence that he feels much like a real life superhero.

He has feelings that just about any goal is within his power to accomplish. But these mania episodes are also filled with impulsivity as well as irritability for no apparent reasons. Those going through a manic episode may spend money -- much more than they can afford to - on the spur of the moment and for no particular reason at all.