The Case of Virginia Woolf
Mood disorders are a disturbance in an individual’s emotions. These disturbances can cause discomfort or hinder function. One mood disorder is bipolar disorder. In bipolar disorder, depression is accompanied by manic episodes. Bipolar has a generally slow onset. However, the onset of manic episodes may be sudden (Meyer, Chapman, & Weaver, 2009). Evidence shows that an individual’s life history may feature symptoms in childhood or adolescence. These symptoms may become more intense during the lifespan. Many creative individuals, such as Virginia Woolf, were believed to have bipolar disorder. The Case of Virginia Woolf demonstrates the severity of bipolar disorder.
Virginia Woolf began exhibiting symptoms of bipolar disorder in her early teens. Virginia was very close to her mother and took her death hard. Around this time, Virginia had what was considered her first breakdown (Meyer, Chapman, & Weaver, 2009). After her father’s death, Virginia had a more extreme breakdown. Virginia suffered from breakdowns during adulthood as well. These breakdowns usually occurred during the final stages of her writing projects. Her husband, Leonard, began to detect when episodes were beginning and enforced rest for Virginia. This helped her from having relapses. However in 1941, Virginia suffered from another attack and took her own life.
There are several characteristics related to bipolar disorder. These symptoms fall under affective, cognitive, behavioral, and physiological. The affective symptoms include elevated, expansive, or irritable moods, boundless energy, enthusiasm, and self – assertion. If the individual becomes frustrated, he or she may become profane or belligerent. In Virginia’s episodes, it was reported that she had intense irritable moments. Cognitive characteristics include grandiosity, flightiness, pressured thoughts, lack of focus, and attention, and poor judgment. Speech is accelerated. The individual may change topics mid – sentence and use irrelevant phrases. It was reported that Virginia Woolf often talked rapidly during her episodes. Behavioral characteristics include inhibition and episodes of mania. The classification of bipolar depends on the type of manic episodes experienced; manic or hypomanic. Virginia Woolf experienced manic episodes. In these episodes, the individual exhibits disruptive behavior, pronounced overactivity, grandiosity, hallucinations, and delusions. During her episodes, Virginia believed her nurses were evil and at one point, believed she heard birds chirping in Greek and King Edward VII was hiding in the bushes (Meyer, Chapman, & Weaver, 2009). Physiological characteristics include decreased need for sleep and weight loss or gain. Those individuals with manic episodes are much more debilitated than those with hypomanic episodes. Several characteristics of mania may be confused with schizophrenic episodes. However, there are differences between the two. For instance, schizophrenics are controlled by internal thoughts and ideas; whereas, manics are controlled by external stimuli (Meyer, Chapman, & Weaver, 2009). A complication of untreated bipolar is suicide. Statistics show that 15% of these untreated cases end in suicide. Virginia Woolf lived during a time period where most bipolar cases were treated with only rest. Therefore, Virginia committed suicide believing there was no relief from her symptoms. At the time of her death, Virginia had what was classified as Bipolar I.
The etiology of bipolar depression involves components such as biological, cognitive, behavioral, psychodynamic, and sociocultural. Most studies focus on depression more than mania (Sue, Sue, & Sue, 2010). The most prominent factor appears to be biological. Biological factors include genetics, neurochemical, and hormonal. Some reasons that depression may occur are dysfunctions in neurotransmission, brain structures affected, and dysregulation in the brain activation system. Mania may be caused by elevated serotonin transporter availability (Sue, Sue, & Sue, 2010). Cognitive causes include how the individual views certain aspects of his or her life. These aspects include themselves, world, and futures. This is called the negative cognitive triad. Behavioral causes include interruption of reinforcements, as developed by Skinner, from the environment. Freud developed the psychodynamic components of depression. He believed that depression was similar to grief. In his research, Freud concluded that depression has roots in the experiences of loss or disappointment (Hansell & Damour, 2008). These experiences resulted in anger. Sociocultural causes include low self – esteem and a weak social support system. Based upon the etiology of depression, Virginia Woolf’s bipolar disorder could have biological or psychodynamic components. Without the proper research and studies on Virginia, biological factors cannot be ruled out. According to Freud, depression has roots in grief. Virginia’s first attack occurred after her mother passed away. She then spent time torn between loving her father and despising him for his actions (Meyer, Chapman, & Weaver, 2009). Freud’s theories involved anger at the disappointing person. Virginia suffered her second attack after her father passed away. She had a strong support system through her husband who loved her and took care of her even when she did not reciprocate his feelings.
Bipolar disorder interferes with an individual’s functioning. Symptoms and characteristics are similar to other disorders. However, there are ways to distinguish them. Virginia Woolf lived in an era where there was little treatment for her disorder. While bipolar disorder spurred Virginia’s creativity, it was also what cost Virginia her life.
Hansell, J., & Damour, L. (2008). Abnormal Psychology (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Meyer, R., Chapman, L. K., & Weaver, C. M. (2009). Case studies in abnormal behavior (8th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn & Bacon.
Sue, D., Sue, D. W., & Sue, S. (2010). Understanding Abnormal Behavior (9th ed.). Boston, MA: Wadsworth.
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