Bipolar Disorder in Italy

*Bipolar disorder has been seen throughout the years.  As early as 300 to 500 AD persons with bipolar were euthanized.  These ill individuals were seen as crazy and were said to be possessed by the devil.  They were restrained, chained, and their blood was ‘let out’.  It was not until the 18th and 19th centuries that a healthier approach to mental disorders was adopted.  (Stephens; 2007)  In fact, the term mania and melancholia were coined by the ancient Greeks and Romans.  In order to treat agitated or euphoric patients they even used waters of northern Italian spas and even believed that lithium salts would aid in treatment.  The term manic-depressive psychosis was termed in 1875 due to the work of Jean-Pierre Falret.

In Italy, as well as elsewhere in the world, patients suffering from bipolar disorder do not normally attend the clinic of their primary care physician during euphoric periods.  They usually see these periods to be more of a phase of well-being or depressive remission.  This social stigma makes it extremely difficult for health care professionals to accurately diagnose bipolar disease.  (Carta et al; 2011)

Proven throughout the medical community is the fact that the response of the use of antidepressants is often unsatisfactory.  However, a preliminary study performed in Italy found that approximately 20% of bipolar patients were receiving only traditional antidepressants as treatment.  These cultural and medical factors severely decrease the effectiveness of treatment of bipolar disorder in Italy.   It was also discovered that 21.3% of patients in Italy who had been prescribed an antidepressant for depression actually had bipolar disorder.  (Hirschfeld et al; 2005)

As bipolar patients are more likely to seek medical attention during a depressive state than a euphoric one, it is offered that physicians should always consider bipolar disorder for patients presenting with depression.  (Carta et al; 2011)  Patients suffering from bipolar disorder are also turning to alternative and complementary medicines for treatments, a few of which include omega-3 fatty acids, St. John’s wort, and acupuncture.  Researchers are greatly advising that people be informed of the possible risks of alternative treatments.  ( 2007)  REAC-lithium (a radioelectric asymmetric brain stimulation device with lithium) is also being tested as a possible treatment for bipolar disorder; it has shown impressive results. (Mannu et al; 2011)

*Emily Martin is an anthropologist that wrote about and has experience with bipolar disorder.   She argues that “mania and depression have a cultural life outside the confines diagnosis, that the experiences of people living with bipolar disorder belong fully to the human condition, and that even the most so-called rational everyday practices are intertwined with irrational ones.”  (Martin; 2009)  Martin pulls a lot of her knowledge on bipolar disorder from her own experiences with it.


Carta, Mauro; et al.  The Lifetime prevalence fo bipolar disorders and the use of antidepressant drugs in bipolar depression in Italy. October 24, 2011.  Accessed August 10, 2012.

Caution urged on bp alternative treatments. 2007. 2007.  Accessed August 10, 2012.

Hirschfeld, Robert; et al. Screening for Bipolar Disorder in Patients Treated for Depression in a Family Medicine Clinic. August 2005. accessed August 10, 2012.

Mannu, Piero; et al.  Long-term treatment of bipolar disorder with a radioelectric asymmetric conveyor. June 2011.  Accessed August 10, 2012.

Martin, Emily.  Bipolar Expeditions: Mania and Depression in American Culture. 2009.  Accessed August 10, 2012.

Stephens, Stephanie. Through the ages, it’s been there. 2007-2012  Accessed August 10, 2012.

1 thought on “Bipolar Disorder in Italy

  1. I decided to look into your post because it was about Italy. I have read recently that the suicide rates in Italy and other parts of Europe were on the rise. Some people have hypothesized that the economic crisis sweeping across Europe could be a cause for this rise. People are trying to make this rise in suicides known to the public and have hung mannequins from city bridges to show the rising problem.
    What I did not understand about your post was nothing was explained as to why bipolar disorder is such a problem in Italy. The problem you addressed with going to clinics during depressive states and not euphoric states. This seems like a general problem for the disorder and not at all linked to Italy. Was there other research that pointed to Italian culture, diet, or lifestyle that contributes to a high number of bipolar Italians. I know you state the research shows many manic depressive people are being improperly treated for depression. The anti-depressants are not curing their problems and alternative treatments are being sought out. Are the alternative treatments something that is popular in Italy or unique to their treatment of bipolar disorder or is this a global trend in the treatment.
    Very good summary of the disorder, but I’m not sure i understand what the anthropologist is doing to create awareness or research the problem in Italy specifically.
    I think anthropologists should look into Italian culture to see if their lifestyles contribute to increased symptoms of bipolar disorder. Maybe there is a genetic problem among italians that could be resulting in increased numbers. The Italian and Mediterranean cultures have been shown to have decreased rates of heart disease and certain cancers. Does the reduction in these risks contribute to a rise in the risk of psychiatric disorders?

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