A month ago, police led Joseph Peter Lynch out of his Santa Ana apartment, handcuffed and with only a blanket around his waist to ward off the post-midnight chill.
Inside the apartment, police had found the body of Lynch's wife, Helen, still holding the couple's badly beaten and unconscious infant daughter in her arms.
Within 2 days, 13-month-old Natalie Lynch was declared brain-dead.
The next day, Lynch was charged with beating his wife and daughter to death with a champagne bottle.
As the public recoiled at the brutality of the attack, Lynch's relatives asked for understanding for the accused man, saying he suffered from manic-depressive psychosis. They said his wife called his doctor the day before she was killed, saying that the symptoms of Lynch's illness had recurred. The doctor, Richard Rose, told reporters after the deaths that an appointment was not scheduled immediately because Helen Lynch did not express urgency. Instead, an appointment was scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 17. Sometime during the night, Lynch allegedly attacked his wife and baby.
The weekend after Lynch's violent outburst, about 50 people met at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange for their regular Saturday morning get-together. For this group, all diagnosed as manic-depressives, the Lynch news was particularly troubling. Aside from their revulsion at the crime, they knew that their hopes for increased public understanding about the nature of their illness had taken another blow.
That Lynch was identified as manic-depressive and then linked to the assault was but another scary image added to the public's awareness of the illness. Last year, actress Robin Givens attributed heavyweight champ Mike Tyson's alleged violent household tirades to the illness. More recently, a Connecticut psychiatrist said condemned serial killer Ted Bundy probably was manic-depressive.
Three men. Three violent tales.
But mental health experts and victims of manic depression say the violent episodes, which commonly occur during the manic phase, are a misleading indicator of the illness, which often is controllable by medication and whose victims often lead normal lives.
That is not to say that manic depression--or bipolar affective disorder, as doctors more commonly refer to it--does not present a fascinating look at how the brain can malfunction. Although researchers know that there is a genetic link to manic depression, no one is certain what misfires in the brain.
The search for answers has become increasingly alluring to researchers. At UC Irvine's Brain Imaging Center, researchers soon will begin a study of manic depression, comparing the brain activity of 16 manic-depressives with that of known schizophrenics. The center is looking for volunteers willing to go off medication to participate in the study.
The common perception of manic depression is that of a cyclical mood swing in which patients ride an emotional roller coaster from frenzied activity to depression. While those are the classic symptoms, many sufferers exhibit only one side of the mood swing, most commonly the depressive side. The person showing only manic tendencies is rare and probably shows some depression that may not be easily recognizable, experts say.
But it is the manic side of the illness that distinguishes it and that produces behavior that can be so excessive that it torments friends and relatives as much as it exhilarates the patient.
People who have come out of manic episodes, which can last for hours, days or weeks, describe it as a near-constant state of euphoria.
"The typical manic has very inflated self-esteem and feels much more self-confident than others," according to Himasiri DeSilva, chairman of the psychiatry department at St. Joseph Hospital and co-founder of the Manic-Depressive Assn. of Orange County. "They feel that what they think is right and what they do is right. Most of the problem we have in treating them is saying, 'Hey, slow down a bit, change your mind.' "
But as doctors and patients alike know, it is often impossible to penetrate the sense of omnipotence and energy that someone has when experiencing a full-blown manic episode.
A few years ago, Linda Olsem was spending her lunch hour in the Mall of Orange, finishing off a hot dog, when she spotted a jewelry store. For the next 30 seconds, she recalled, all she could think of was that she really wanted a 1-carat diamond ring. That she did not need a ring was immaterial. Olsem went into the store, filled out the necessary forms and walked out with a $7,000 diamond ring.
Olsem, now 46 and president of the county's manic-depressive association, said that was one of her final manic episodes but not necessarily the most bizarre.