Dear Ann: I have been coping with manic-depression for 14 years. Most people understand how harmful depression can be, but it's difficult for some to believe that feeling good actually ecstatic could be bad for you. If you have manic-depression, however, this euphoric state can have serious consequences.
Manic-depression sets off a roller coaster of mood swings, alternating between the paralyzing lows of depression and the erratic peaks of mania. Manic episodes are often mistaken for drug-induced highs. The distinguishing feature is the feeling of "specialness." This can include a sense of power, an irrepressible outpouring of generosity, bursts of creativity and boundless energy.
These feelings can produce hyperactive and risky behavior, rapid and chaotic thinking and speech, bouts of insomnia, excessive eating, drinking and athletic activity, money-squandering and sometimes religious hallucinations. All this activity took its toll on me. I had to deal with damaged relationships as well as bank accounts. These manic episodes culminated in intense depression and suicide attempts.
There are treatments that can control manic-depression and help people cope. Please tell your readers that the free screenings on National Depression Screening Day can help those who suffer from manic-depression, as well as other forms of depression. Monica in Boston
Dear Monica: Thank you for sharing your story with my readers. Manic-depression affects almost 2.5 million American adults every year. Depression and manic-depression often have their onset between 25 and 44 years of age.
Symptoms of depression include persistent sad, anxious or empty moods; feelings of hopelessness, guilt, worthlessness or helplessness; a loss of interest or pleasure in ordinary activities; decreased energy or a feeling of fatigue; difficulty concentrating or making decisions; restlessness or irritability; inability to sleep or oversleeping; changes in appetite or weight; unexplained aches and pains; and thoughts of death or suicide.
Symptoms of mania include extreme irritability; excessive "high" or euphoric feelings; increased energy, activity, sexual drive and restlessness; racing thoughts and rapid speech; a decreased need for sleep; unrealistic beliefs in one's abilities or powers; abuse of drugs or alcohol; reckless behavior and hallucinations.
Those who suffer from manic-depression may go on shopping sprees and max out their credit cards, or gamble away their life savings. They may think they can read other people's minds. They don't finish projects because they have already moved on to something else. They might have sex with people they don't know or take a trip without making any plans.
Approximately 2,000 local hospitals, mental health centers and other locations will offer free, anonymous screenings for depression and manic-depression on National Depression Screening Day. This year's screening is Thursday, Oct. 11. Starting today, you can call 1-800-437-1200 (TDD for the hearing impaired: 1-800-697-3800) or go online at www.mentalhealthscreening.org to find a screening site in your area. At the site, you will hear an educational presentation, pick up brochures and meet individually with a clinician for a brief screening interview. Anyone who appears to have symptoms of depression will be directed to a treatment facility.
If you see yourself in today's column, please follow through. It could make a huge difference in your life. If you have a friend or loved one who you believe may be depressed, do whatever is in your power to get that person to a screening site. It could be the greatest gift you will ever give.