Exploring depression and mania and how neither are one-size-fits-all.
Currently, 1 in every 5 adults in the United States lives with a mental health disorder. That could be your sister, brother, cousin, or neighbor — anyone can have a mental health disorder.
There is a myth that we can simply control our feelings (and it’s supposedly as easy as that!). It’s often thought that depression isn’t real or we possess the ability to ‘snap out of it.’
It’s as if we can flip a switch and turn our symptoms on and off.
If you don’t want to feel anxious, don’t feel anxious.
If you don’t want to feel depressed, don’t feel depressed.
With that logic, it would be like telling someone with knee pain to not feel the pain. But mood disorders are so much deeper than we feel; they can wreak havoc on someone’s life.
Presently, there are about 5% diagnosed with depression globally. While there are about 7.5% of people who have experienced mania. It’s essential to keep in mind that these stats are based on people who have been diagnosed.
Mood disorders can actually be explained on a spectrum. There are two types of moods on the spectrum that are considered extremes:
Depression and Mania.
There aren’t any levels or stages that someone enters into, though. Instead, there’s a degree of severity to depression and mania — helping to understand how mental health varies greatly.
Instead, it is a helpful tool for understanding how mania and depression can look.
The mood spectrum model is never used as a diagnostic tool (or away to diagnose someone with a mental health disorder). Instead, the mood spectrum visually represents how mood disorders will vary.
I found the mood spectrum model extremely valuable when learning about psychiatric disorders. Seeing the mood on a spectrum can help us understand the different variations of symptoms to which depression or mania can present or show themselves through someone’s behavior.
It’s important to understand that someone may exist on the mood spectrum at any level, even without having a complete mental health diagnosis or disorder.
Understanding mood disorders
Mood disorders are a category of mental health disorders; every type of mental health disorder is categorized. Mood disorders cover mental health disorders ranging from depression to bipolar.
Bipolar is when someone exhibits mood swings from depression and mania. Although someone with bipolar experiences depressive and manic symptoms, they won’t experience them simultaneously.
Though depression and mania may be opposites on the mood spectrum, both disorders can take a severe toll on someone’s quality of life.
Within bipolar and depression lies various subtypes or variations that can occur from one person to the next. Depression or an episode of mania will never look the same for two people.
There isn’t just a single type of depression or mania that someone can experience. One-size-fits-all simply doesn’t exist.
Through my studies in psychology as a graduate student, I have learned that every disorder will look differently from one person to the next. No two people will experience identical symptoms — each person’s mental health is unique.
There is certainly more than one type of depression or mania — meaning there is a range of symptoms people can experience that you may not have known could happen.
Note: the contents of this article are not meant to treat or cure any disorder. Nor is the information listed here enough to replace mental health treatment from a licensed mental health professional.
Depression is a disorder that can negatively impact your life and cause you to think, feel, and act differently. In fact, both extremes on the spectrum will negatively impact someone, either with depression or mania.
Growing up in my toxic family, I always noticed how my depression symptoms were treated as something that was nothing more than the sniffles.
It wasn’t that big of a deal.
I was treated as if my symptoms were nothing more severe than the next ‘depressed’ person. In fact, my toxic family acted as if I was a liar, a fake, and seeking nothing but attention.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, these are the typical list of symptoms (or diagnostic criteria) of depression:
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
- Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
- Decreased energy or fatigue
- Moving or talking more slowly
- Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
- Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
- Appetite and/or weight changes
- Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
- Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment
This is only an essential list of symptoms that are most common to see and used for diagnosis. Not everyone will experience every symptom on this list. But this also does not mean symptoms are merely confined to what is on this list.
Different Variations of Depression
Mental illness will look different for everyone, so we cannot have a one-size-fits-all approach to mental health. The variations in circumstances, genetics, and environment can influence people in drastically different ways.
Throughout my life, I have noticed how differently depression can affect everyone. I noticed how my depressive episodes would look drastically different than a friend experiencing the same disorder.
Variations occur with any disorder — not just mental health — it’s to be expected.
Major Depressive Disorder
People who live with major depressive disorder experience periods of depressive symptoms but also have periods of being at their baseline. This type of depression doesn’t frequently occur for someone, but that doesn’t lessen the severity.
A depressive episode can last anywhere from a few weeks to months — some symptoms can persist for a year.
Also known as persistent depression, it is where someone experiences ‘mild’ depression symptoms every day with little to no relief. But don’t let the word mild fool you; mild symptoms can still affect someone’s quality of life.
Compared to a depressive episode, someone will experience symptoms of depression daily. Dysthymia can last for nearly two years, but the symptoms won’t be as severe as major depressive disorder.
Postpartum depression isn’t always caused by some significant reason — other than it being a complication of giving birth to a baby. Sometimes these feelings of depression can be misunderstood as the baby blues.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Typically people with SAD will experience a lessened mood in the fall, which continues until the conclusion of winter. Also known as seasonal depression, this disorder occurs with changes throughout the year. The parts of life we most certainly have no control over include the changing seasons.
Psychotic depression is a sub-type of major depressive disorder where someone displays psychotic symptoms. Psychosis refers to hallucinations that can appear in the following ways:
- auditory (hearing voices, etc.)
- visual (seeing people or other things that others do not see)
- olfactory (smelling something that doesn’t exist, etc.)
- Tactical hallucinations (being able to feel sensations without anything actually causing them)
Mania is defined as a state where someone has an abnormally elevated mood, far from who they usually are — and is noticeable by others. The elevated mood others notice must last longer than just a few days.
In most cases, mania must typically be present for at least one week to receive a diagnosis. An elevated mood for a few days isn’t uncommon. Sometimes experiences in our life can make our mood better — it’s normal.
What matters is how the person’s elevated mood affects their behavior, interaction with the world, and duration. During a friend’s manic episodes, I witnessed them exhibit reckless behavior.
Symptoms of Mania
- feeling very happy, satisfied, or overjoyed
- talking very quickly
- feeling full of energy
- feeling self-important
- feeling full of great new ideas and having important plans
- being easily distracted
- being easily irritated or agitated
- being delusional, having hallucinations, and disturbed or illogical thinking
- not feeling like sleeping
- not eating
- doing things that often have disastrous consequences — such as spending large sums of money on expensive and sometimes unaffordable items
- making decisions or saying things that are out of character and that others see as being risky or harmful
(Source: NHS.UK, “Symptoms — Bipolar disorder”)
Someone with mania can place themselves higher than the moon, setting their immediate sights on the far distant stars. But, not everyone who experiences mania will experience this exact feeling.
But not every person I knew with mania would participate in drug use or promiscuity. Sometimes, it looked like reorganizing their entire home with little to no sleep.
Different Variations of Mania
Like depression and other disorders, there will be variations in the types of mania someone can experience. Understanding how mania can fluctuate and vary can help you understand how mental health is truly different for everyone.
Mania is associated with irritability, agitation, negative energy, and a pessimistic attitude and outlook on life. The mania that I witnessed through family and friends was not always consistent from one person to the next.
There were definite similarities, but there was a clear distinction between each person’s manic episodes.
No two people will have the same manic episode.
Most commonly known as euphoric mania, someone will feel absolute euphoria that is expansive. This type of mania is what we typically think mania will look like exclusively.
This type of mania has the potential for reckless acts, as the person may feel grandiose — or even invincible. Behaviors like this will still be present in other forms of mania, but they may not be as present at such an extreme.
This side of mania is the opposite of what we typically view mania. In fact, someone experiencing dysphoric mania will have depression symptoms — otherwise called a “mixed episode.”
In fact, around 40% of people who experience bipolar have experienced dysphoric mania. There can be a mix of symptoms simultaneously and/or proceeding or following the other, lasting days to even a couple of weeks or more.
Hypomania is considered a less severe form of mania (but don’t let the less severe fool you). Hypomania is still noticeable to others; there are still changes to someone’s mood, affect, and energy level.
For hypomania, symptoms only need to be present for 4 consecutive days to qualify for a diagnosis. This type of mania may seem less intense, which is true — but it can still bring complex challenges to someone’s quality of life.
For sub-threshold mania, someone is displaying symptoms of mania but not enough to be considered full-blown mania. This is where someone is teetering between mania and being at their baseline.
Sub-threshold can be someone who experiences mania for 1–3 days, therefore not meeting diagnostic criteria. Someone with this type of mania isn’t going to look very much like what we typically imagine mania to be.
There is a spot within the mood spectrum between depression and mania— this is considered someone’s baseline. For comparison purposes, a baseline is essential in a clinic setting to know someone’s daily functioning.
The baseline can also be described as average — whatever that may look like for someone. This is where someone is closer to who they usually are — or how they would be before displaying depressive or manic symptoms.
That’s where we all fit, somewhere between the two extremes.
When someone is at their baseline, then they are considered stable. Someone functioning symptom-free or nearly symptom-free — with the help of intervention — can be considered stable.
Stable means being at your baseline or where you are ‘normal.’ Although the word normal is highly discouraged, it’s a good indicator to understand how someone may feel.
Being or feeling normal is entirely reliant on who that person is ultimate. Normal isn’t one-size-fits-all as well.
While working for an adult psychiatric unit, I saw people reaching their baseline after weeks of depression, mania, and even psychosis. Quite frankly, someone you meet in a manic or depressive episode will almost always be completely different from when they left.
If someone feels normal, whatever that may be, they can bounce around somewhere in the middle between the two extremes of mood disorders.
But this really boils down to how all these ties into what we need to know. What makes all of this information so important?
Why does this matter?
So, why does all of this matter — why do we need to understand that depression and mania can vary. Well, mental health is just as important as physical well-being.
There are many stereotypes in society that can hinder someone from reaching out to receive treatment. Understanding how different depression or mania can look is crucial.
Everyone deserves treatment — fear shouldn’t be a block for them anymore. I was afraid to receive treatment for years — even after learning about mental health through my undergraduate years. I thought I was not normal or would be viewed differently.
I have seen firsthand just how mental health is misunderstood. That depression, mania, or any health mental health disorder is considered fake.
But that isn’t the case.
Taking care of our mental health looks very different for many people. Mental health is essential to maintain as we move through life.
Much like everything in life, there is a grey area. Not everything will be the same for everyone — one-size-fits-all isn’t realistic. Depression and mania affect someone’s quality of life; seeking help is always the best option. No one should have to go through this alone.
Any type of depression is necessary and needs proper medical treatment from a licensed mental health professional. Mental health is complex and unique to each individual.
From my personal experience with various family and friends, depression and mania can undoubtedly look drastically different from one to the next.
‘One-size-fits-all’ simply doesn’t exist.
Over 3 months off from writing and I am back, and ready to share some new and exciting work with you! As That Psych Nerd, I want to share my love of psychology with other fellow psych nerds! See you soon!