Mania is a state of abnormally elevated arousal, affect, and energy level, or “a state of heightened overall activation with enhanced affective expression together with lability of affect.” Although mania is often conceived as a “mirror image” to depression, the heightened mood can be either euphoric or irritable; indeed, as the mania intensifies, irritability may become more pronounced and eventuate in violence.
The symptoms of mania are the following: heightened mood (either euphoric or irritable); flight of ideas and pressure of speech; and increased energy, decreased need for sleep, and hyperactivity. They are most plainly evident in fully developed hypomanic states; in full-blown mania, however, they undergo progressively severe exacerbations and become more and more obscured by other signs and symptoms, such as delusions and fragmentation of behavior.
Mania is a syndrome of multiple causes.
Although the vast majority of cases occur in the context of bipolar disorder, it is a key component of other psychiatric disorders (as schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type) and may also occur secondary to various general medical conditions, as multiple sclerosis; certain medications, such as prednisone; or certain substances of abuse, as cocaine or anabolic steroids.
In current DSM-5 nomenclature, hypomanic episodes are separated from the more severe full manic episodes, which, in turn, are characterized as either mild, moderate, or severe, with specifiers with regard to certain symptomatic features (e.g. catatonia, psychosis). Mania, however, may be divided into three stages:
- hypomania, or stage I
- acute mania, or stage II
- delirious mania, or stage III.
This “staging” of a manic episode is, in particular, very useful from a descriptive and differential diagnostic point of view.
Mania should be diagnosed early to improve compliance with the treatment. Those who never experience depression also experience cyclical changes in mood. These cycles are often affected by changes in sleep cycle (too much or too little), diurnal rhythms, and environmental stressors.
Mania varies in intensity, from mild mania (hypomania) to delirious mania, marked by such symptoms as disorientation, florid psychosis, incoherence, and catatonia. Standardized tools such as Altman Self-Rating Mania Scale and Young Mania Rating Scale can be used to measure severity of manic episodes.
Because mania and hypomania have also been associated with creativity and artistic talent, it is not always the case that the clearly manic bipolar person needs or wants medical help; such persons often either retain sufficient self-control to function normally or are unaware that they have “gone manic” severely enough to be committed or to commit themselves. Manic persons often can be mistaken for being on drugs.
In a mixed affective state, the individual, though meeting the general criteria for a hypomanic (discussed below) or manic episode, experiences three or more concurrent depressive symptoms. This has caused some speculation, among clinicians, that mania and depression, rather than constituting “true” polar opposites, are, rather, two independent axes in a unipolar—bipolar spectrum.
A mixed affective state, especially with prominent manic symptoms, places the patient at a greater risk for completed suicide. Depression on its own is a risk factor but, when coupled with an increase in energy and goal-directed activity, the patient is far more likely to act with violence on suicidal impulses.
Hypomania is a lowered state of mania that does little to impair function or decrease quality of life. It may, in fact, increase productivity and creativity. In hypomania, there is less need for sleep and both goal-motivated behavior and metabolism increase.
Though the elevated mood and energy level typical of hypomania could be seen as a benefit, mania itself generally has many undesirable consequences including suicidal tendencies, and hypomania can, if the prominent mood is irritable rather than euphoric, be a rather unpleasant experience.
By definition, hypomania cannot feature psychosis, nor can it require psychiatric hospitalisation (voluntary or involuntary).
A single manic episode, in the absence of secondary causes, (i.e., substance use disorder, pharmacologic, general medical condition) is sufficient to diagnose bipolar I disorder. Hypomania may be indicative of bipolar II disorder.
Manic episodes are often complicated by delusions and/or hallucinations; should the psychotic features persist for a duration significantly longer than the episode of mania (two weeks or more), a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder is more appropriate. Certain of “obsessive-compulsive spectrum” disorders as well as impulse control disorders share the name “mania,” namely, kleptomania, pyromania, and trichotillomania.
Despite the unfortunate association implied by the name, however, no connection exists between mania or bipolar disorder and these disorders. B12 deficiency can also cause characteristics of mania and psychosis.
Hyperthyroidism can produce similar symptoms to those of mania, such as agitation, elevated mood, increased energy, hyperactivity, sleep disturbances and sometimes, especially in severe cases, psychosis.
Mania Signs And Symptoms
A manic episode is defined in the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual as a period of seven or more days (or any period if admission to hospital is required) of unusually and continuously effusive and open elated or irritable mood, where the mood is not caused by drugs/medication or a medical illness (e.g., hyperthyroidism), and (a) is causing obvious difficulties at work or in social relationships and activities, or (b) requires admission to hospital to protect the person or others, or (c) the person is suffering psychosis.
To be classed as a manic episode, while the disturbed mood and an increase in goal directed activity or energy is present at least three (or four if only irritability is present) of the following must have been consistently present:
- Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity
- Decreased need for sleep (e.g., feels rested after 3 hours of sleep.)
- More talkative than usual or pressure to keep talking.
- Flights of ideas or subjective experience that thoughts are racing.
- Increase in goal directed activity, or psychomotor acceleration.
- Distractibility (too easily drawn to unimportant or irrelevant external stimuli).
- Excessive involvement in activities that have a high degree for painful consequences.(e.g., extravagant shopping, sexual adventures or improbable commercial schemes).
Though the activities one participates in while in a manic state are not always negative, those with the potential to have negative outcomes are far more likely.
If the person is concurrently depressed, they are said to be having a mixed episode.
The World Health Organization’s classification system defines a manic episode as one where mood is higher than the person’s situation warrants and may vary from relaxed high spirits to barely controllable exuberance, accompanied by hyperactivity, a compulsion to speak, a reduced sleep requirement, difficulty sustaining attention and often increased distractibility.
Frequently, confidence and self-esteem are excessively enlarged, and grand, extravagant ideas are expressed. Behavior that is out of character and risky, foolish or inappropriate may result from a loss of normal social restraint.
Some people also have physical symptoms, such as sweating, pacing, and weight loss. In full-blown mania, often the manic person will feel as though his or her goal(s) trump all else, that there are no consequences or that negative consequences would be minimal, and that they need not exercise restraint in the pursuit of what they are after.
Hypomania is different, as it may cause little or no impairment in function. The hypomanic person’s connection with the external world, and its standards of interaction, remain intact, although intensity of moods is heightened. But those who suffer from prolonged unresolved hypomania do run the risk of developing full mania, and indeed may cross that “line” without even realizing they have done so.
One of the most signature symptoms of mania (and to a lesser extent, hypomania) is what many have described as racing thoughts. These are usually instances in which the manic person is excessively distracted by objectively unimportant stimuli. This experience creates an absent-mindedness where the manic individual’s thoughts totally preoccupy him or her, making him or her unable to keep track of time, or be aware of anything besides the flow of thoughts. Racing thoughts also interfere with the ability to fall asleep.
Manic states are always relative to the normal state of intensity of the afflicted individual; thus, already irritable patients may find themselves losing their tempers even more quickly and an academically gifted person may, during the hypomanic stage, adopt seemingly “genius” characteristics and an ability to perform and articulate at a level far beyond that which would be capable during euthymia.
A very simple indicator of a manic state would be if a heretofore clinically depressed patient suddenly becomes inordinately energetic, cheerful, aggressive, or “over happy.” Other, often less obvious, elements of mania include delusions (generally of either grandeur or persecution, according to whether the predominant mood is euphoric or irritable), hypersensitivity, hyper vigilance, hypersexuality, hyper-religiosity, hyperactivity and impulsivity, a compulsion to over explain, (typically accompanied by pressure of speech) grandiose schemes and ideas, and a decreased need for sleep (for example, feeling rested after only 3 or 4 hours of sleep); in the case of the latter, the eyes of such patients may both look and feel abnormally “wide” or “open,” rarely blinking, and this often contributing to some clinicians’ erroneous belief that these patients are under the influence of a stimulant drug, when the patient, in fact, is either not on any mind-altering substances or is actually on a depressant drug, in a misguided attempt to ward off any undesirable manic symptoms.
Individuals may also engage in out-of-character behavior during the episode, such as questionable business transactions, wasteful expenditures of money (e.g., spending sprees), risky sexual activity, abuse of recreational substances, excessive gambling, reckless behavior (as “speed driving” or daredevil activity), abnormal social interaction (as manifest via, for example, over familiarity and conversing with strangers), or highly vocal arguments. These behaviors may increase stress in personal relationships, lead to problems at work and increase the risk of altercations with law enforcement. There is a high risk of impulsively taking part in activities potentially harmful to self and others.
Although “severely elevated mood” sounds somewhat desirable and enjoyable, the experience of mania is ultimately often quite unpleasant and sometimes disturbing, if not frightening, for the person involved and for those close to them, and it may lead to impulsive behavior that may later be regretted. It can also often be complicated by the sufferer’s lack of judgment and insight regarding periods of exacerbation of characteristic states.
Manic patients are frequently grandiose, obsessive, impulsive, irritable, belligerent, and frequently deny anything is wrong with them. Because mania frequently encourages high energy and decreased perception of need or ability to sleep, within a few days of a manic cycle, sleep-deprived psychosis may appear, further complicating the ability to think clearly. Racing thoughts and misperceptions lead to frustration and decreased ability to communicate with others.
There are different “stages” or “states” of mania. A minor state is essentially hypomania and, like hypomania’s characteristics, may involve increased creativity, wit, gregariousness, and ambition. Full-blown mania will make a person feel elated, but perhaps also irritable, frustrated, and even disconnected from reality. These latter two stages are often referred to as acute (stage II) and delirious, or Bell’s (stage III).
The biological mechanism by which mania occurs is not yet known. Based on the mechanism of action of antimanic agents (such as antipsychotics, valproate, tamoxifen, lithium, carbamazepine, etc.) and abnormalities seen in patients experiencing a manic episode the following is theorised to be involved in the pathophysiology of mania:
- Dopamine D2 receptor overactivity (which is a pharmacologic mechanism of antipsychotics in mania)
- GSK-3 overactivity
- Protein kinase C overactivity
- Inositol monophosphatase overactivity
- Increased arachidonic acid turnover
- Increased cytokine synthesis
Before beginning treatment for mania, careful differential diagnosis must be performed to rule out secondary causes.
The acute treatment of a manic episode of bipolar disorder involves the utilization of either a mood stabilizer (valproate, lithium, or carbamazepine) or an atypical antipsychotic (olanzapine, quetiapine, risperidone, or aripiprazole). Although hypomanic episodes may respond to a mood stabilizer alone, full-blown episodes are treated with an atypical antipsychotic (often in conjunction with a mood stabilizer, as these tend to produce the most rapid improvement.
When the manic behaviors have gone, long-term treatment then focuses on prophylactic treatment to try to stabilize the patient’s mood, typically through a combination of pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy. The likelihood of having a relapse is very high for those who have experienced two or more episodes of mania or depression.
While medication for bipolar disorder is important to manage symptoms of mania and depression, studies show relying on medications alone is not the most effective method of treatment. Medication is most effective when used in combination with other bipolar disorder treatments, including psychotherapy, self-help coping strategies, and healthy lifestyle choices.
Lithium is the classic mood stabilizer to prevent further manic and depressive episodes. A systematic review found that long term lithium treatment substantially reduces the risk of bipolar manic relapse, by 42%. Anticonvulsants such as valproate, oxcarbazepine and carbamazepine are also used for prophylaxis. More recent drug solutions include lamotrigine, which is another anticonvulsant. Clonazepam (Klonopin) is also used.
Sometimes atypical antipsychotics are used in combination with the previous mentioned medications as well, including olanzapine (Zyprexa) which helps treat hallucinations or delusions, Asenapine (Saphris, Sycrest), aripiprazole (Abilify), risperidone, ziprasidone, and clozapine which is often used for people who do not respond to lithium or anticonvulsants.
Verapamil, a calcium-channel blocker, is useful in the treatment of hypomania and in those cases where lithium and mood stabilizers are contraindicated or ineffective. Verapamil is effective for both short-term and long-term treatment.
Antidepressant monotherapy is not recommended for the treatment of depression in patients with bipolar disorders I or II, and no benefit has been demonstrated by combining antidepressants with mood stabilizers in these patients.
1. Semple, David. “Oxford Hand book of Psychiatry” Oxford press,2005
2. Jamison, Kay R. (1996)
Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament
New York: Free Press, ISBN 0-684-83183-X
3. Lakshmi N. Ytham, Vivek Kusumakar, Stanley P. Kutchar. (2009).
Bipolar Disorder: A Clinician’s Guide to Biological Treatments
Top Image: Clem Onojeghuo
Did you like this article? Then you'll really want to sign up for my newsletter. It's delivered several times a week and packed with science news and analysis. Subscribe Here.