This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 12 table of contents.

The Bipolar Disorder ("Manic-Depression")

Mania and depression alternate in the disorder once known as manic-depression. Psychologists now call this the bipolar (two-sided) disorder. Biological treatments for mania and the bipolar disorder are usually quite effective. Lithium—a metallic element—helps 70-80% of the time. However, lithium is potentially toxic, so its use must be monitored closely. Lithium works by reducing the rate of acetylcholine synthesis, making it available in moderate amounts but leveling off the extreme excesses and shortages of it.

What is the bipolar disorder?

During wild swings in availability of acetylcholine within their nervous systems, manic-depressives go from a highly agitated state in which they take on new projects at the drop of a hat to a depressed state in which they cannot even take on daily chores. A student describes his manic-depressive father:

One day he was planning to make another bathroom in the house. So he had to bust out a spot on the floor for the toilet. He did. But he wasn't satisfied. Soon the little hole that was meant to be a passage for the sewer pipe ended up being a trap door for a cellar that he and his boys spent digging out for days. And it was hard for all four of us to keep up with him when he was in the mood for working.

Dad would often get started on projects that would usually run into money-money that we didn't have. He'd drop that project and go on to another, then leave that one unfinished and go on to another. Then for some reason he would become depressed and have to go into the hospital for some time. [Author's files]

What did researchers discover when studying the possible connection between artistic creativity and mental illness?

Both depression and manic depression seem to be associated with artistic creativity. Many famous figures in history suffered from either depression or manic depression. Jamison (1995) lists (among others) Edgar Allen Poe, Sylvia Plath, Paul Gauguin, Cole Porter, Vincent van Gogh, Gustav Mahler, Virginia Woolf, Mark Twain, Tennessee Williams, Charles Mingus, Ernest Hemingway, Georgia O'Keefe, and Ezra Pound. Jamison cites seven studies conducted in the late 1980s and early 1990s that all found a high incidence of mood disorders among artists, writers, and poets, compared to the incidence of these disorders among non-artistic people.

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Copyright © 2007-2011 Russ Dewey