History of Bipolar Disorder

The documented history of bipolar disorder dates back as far as the time of ancient Greece, over 2000 years ago. Even then the extremes of mood – melancholia (depression) and mania were clearly identified – as remitting fluctuating illnesses.

It was Aretaeus of Cappadocia, a celebrated Greek physician, who first put forward that these extremes of mood were a part of the same illness, but it is not until much later that this view gained momentum.

In Paris during the 18th Century there were significant changes to how people with a mental illness were being cared for. With more compassionate treatment, the importance of observing and documenting illnesses was also emphasized, and the connection between mania and depression was again revived. This only occurred due to detailed clinical records that enabled some important re-connections to be made.

In the 1850′s the French psychiatrist Jean-Pierre Falret noted bipolar disorder as a “folie circulaire” – highlighting the circular nature of bipolar disorder, with changes from mania to depression. “Folie” in French refers to mania, madness, craziness or insanity, with the literal translation being ‘circular insanity’.

Around the same time Jules Baillarger a French neurologist described these extreme mood changes as being merely different phases of the same illness “follié a double forme”, translated as ‘dual-form insanity’.

The German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin in 1899 first used the term manic depressive illness to describe these phases. However, it wasn’t until much later that another German, Karl Kleist, in 1953 separated out unipolar depression where there are no periods of mania or hypomania, and the term bipolar disorder was born.

Author: Sue Lauder
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