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Bipolar disorder often mislabeled as depression

Gratified as I was at the coverage of depression and the university’s outreach to students in “College-Level Coping,” (Fall/Winter 2005), I was disappointed that the opportunity was missed to alert readers to the critical possibility that a depressed person may be suffering from bipolar disorder. The diagnostic distinction is key to appropriate treatment. (Indeed, some posit that the association of suicidal tendencies with antidepressant use may be due to prescribing those medications to teens with bipolar disorder whom should instead be treated with the first-line choice of mood stabilizers.)

Bipolar disorder is marked by both depression and mania but all too often—even in the most sophisticated of settings—mania symptoms are overlooked or not even screened for. Students, families, and university personnel should be as familiar with signs of mania as they are with the oft-repeated signs of depression. It is easy at the college level (especially at a highly competitive school like Hopkins) not only to overlook but to indulge and even encourage mania symptoms, especially when the symptoms seem initially productive. Mania symptoms include decreased need for sleep, excessive involvement in multiple projects and activities, increased physical and mental activity, racing thoughts, rapid speech and pressure to keep talking, elevated or expansive mood, dare-devil behaviors, inappropriate sexual behavior, grandiose beliefs, and poor judgment.

When a student presents with depression, it is imperative to be aware that the diagnosis may not be simple depression.

Sheila McDonald ’79
The author is vice president of the Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation

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Sciences Magazine
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SPRING/SUMMER 2006
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Rethinking Citizenship
In Search of Poetry

 

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