A Brief History of Bipolar Disorder

A Brief History of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is a severe mental illness that causes extreme mood swings. People with bipolar disorder may experience periods of high energy and elation (mania), followed by periods of low energy and depressed mood (depression).

The disorder causes drastic changes in sleep patterns, energy, thinking, and behavior. These changes can be so severe that they interfere with a person’s ability to carry out day-to-day activities. Bipolar disorder is considered a lifelong condition that usually requires ongoing treatment. But did you know that the history of bipolar disorder dates back to Ancient Greece?

The History of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is one of the oldest mental illnesses known to humankind. Its history can be traced back to Ancient Greece, where it was first documented by Greek physician Hippocrates (460-370 B.C.). Hippocrates, who is widely considered “the father of medicine,” described the state of extreme sadness as “melancholia.” The term is derived from the Greek words “melas” (black) and “chole” (bile), meaning “black bile.”

At the time, it was believed that melancholia, or the depression phase of bipolar disorder, was caused by an excess of black bile in the body. On the other hand, mania was thought to be caused by too much yellow bile.

Another early reference to bipolar disorder was made in the second century by another ancient Greek physician, Aretaeus of Cappadocia. He is regarded as the first person to suggest the existence of a mood spectrum, with two extreme moods, mania and melancholia, at either end. He is also credited as being the first person to link these mood changes to “a problem in the brain.”

In the mid-1800s, French psychiatrist Jean-Pierre Falret coined the term “la folie circulaire” or “circular insanity.” This was the first time the two phases of bipolar disorder were conceptualized as a single, continuous disorder with alternating periods of mania and depression. He is also credited with recognizing the existence of a genetic component to the condition. Meanwhile, another French psychiatrist, Jules Baillarger (1800-1874), was also working on a similar concept and came up with the term “dual form insanity.”

The first widely used name for bipolar disorder in the modern era, “manic-depressive insanity,” was coined by German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin in 1921. Although the name was later abandoned, Kraepelin’s work was instrumental in furthering the understanding of bipolar disorder as we know it today.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)

In 1952, the first edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) adopted Kraepelin’s term “manic-depressive insanity” as the official name for what we now know as bipolar disorder. 

In the second edition of the DSM, published in 1968, the name was changed to the more favorable “manic-depressive illness.” It was not until the publication of the third edition of the DSM in 1980 that the current name, bipolar disorder, was adopted. 

The name was chosen to more accurately reflect the alternating states of mania and depression that are characteristic of the illness. Since then, there has been a greater understanding and awareness of bipolar disorder. However, there is still much to learn about this complex mental illness.

Advancements in Treatment

Although bipolar disorder is one of the oldest mental illnesses known to man, there is still much that we don’t know about it. In recent years, however, there have been many advances in our understanding of the causes and treatments for bipolar disorder.

Early forms of treatments were often aggressive and included methods such as electric shock therapy. Before that, bipolar disorder was considered possession by evil spirits or insanity, and patients were often subjected to punishment, such as being chained up or locked away.

Today, there are numerous non-invasive treatments that have proven effective in managing the symptoms of bipolar disorder. These include mood-stabilizing medications, antipsychotic medications, and talk therapy. There are also other non-traditional treatments like ketamine therapy that have shown great promise in managing treatment-resistant bipolar disorder.

Final Thoughts

Bipolar disorder is a complex mental illness with a long and fascinating history. While there is still much to learn about the disorder, we have come a long way in our understanding of this illness. A lot also needs to be done to ensure that people with this debilitating disorder get the treatment and support they require to live a happy, healthy, and productive life.

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