One hundred and ten consecutive new patients presenting with major affective disorders were divided into five categories according to pattern of presentation: recurrent manic disorder, recurrent depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, single episodes of manic disorder, and single episodes of major depressive disorder. Manic patients predominated, and recurrent manic disorder was much more frequent than either recurrent depressive or bipolar disorder. The manic and bipolar patients were younger. Females predominanted in all five groups of patients. The two manic groups were less likely to be married, but this was probably a reflection of their younger age. No differences were demonstrated with regard to educational status or occupation. There were no significant differences with regard to sibship position, family size, or polygamous/monogamous parents. Manic patients were more likely to have suffered permanent separation from one or both parents before the age of 12 years. A relatively low proportion of the patients had a positive history of mental disorder among first- or second-degree relatives. Manic and bipolar patients tended to present in hospital relatively early in their illness.