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Contemporary nursing concepts of care for people with affective disorder are a function, at least in part, of the available nursing literature. Cormack suggested that the literature could be defined in terms of ‘prescriptions of care’ and ‘descriptions of care’. This review summarizes some of the best-known British and North American nursing texts of the last 30 years in an effort to identify the views of affective disorder used by authors and the main strategies recommended or described in relation to the care of people with such disorders. Some of the ‘descriptive’ studies reported in Britain over the past decade which highlight the nurses' orientation to care and methods used, are similarly evaluated. The trend away from reliance upon traditional intrapsychic concepts in favour of more eclectic approaches is acknowledged. However, many prescriptions for care fail to indicate whether or not research support exists for specific orientations to care. Also, given the size of the population, the number of published descriptive accounts, especially research reports, related to the care of people with affective disorder are a cause for concern. The review suggests a need for nurses to develop, research and report conceptual models of nursing for the care of the person with affective disorder.