Cyclothymic disorder, also known as cyclothymia, is a relatively mild form of bipolar II disorder characterized by mood swings that may appear to be almost within the normal range of emotions. These mood swings range from mild depression, or dysthymia, to mania of low intensity, or hypomania.
Cyclothymic disorder, a symptomatically mild form of bipolar II disorder, involves mood swings ranging from mild depression to mild mania. It is possible for cyclothymia to go undiagnosed, and for individuals with the disorder to be unaware that they have a treatable disease. Individuals with cyclothymia may experience episodes of low-level depression, known as dysthymia; periods of intense energy, creativity, and/or irritability, known as hypomania; or they may alternate between both mood states. Like other bipolar disorders, cyclothymia is a chronic illness characterized by mood swings that can occur as often as every day and last for several days, weeks, months, or as long as two years. Individuals with this disorder are never free of symptoms of either hypomania or mild depression for more than two months at a time.
The noted psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin first described the symptoms of cyclothymic disorder in the late nineteenth century. Kraepelin described four types of personality disorders: depressive (gloomy); manic (cheerful and uninhibited); irritable (emotionally unstable and explosive); and cyclothymic. He viewed the irritable personality as simultaneously depressive and manic, and the cyclothymic personality as alternating between depressive and manic states.
Persons with cyclothymic disorder differ in the relative proportion of depressive versus hypomanic episodes that they experience. Some individuals have more frequent depressive episodes, whereas others are more likely to feel hypomanic. Most individuals who seek help for the disorder alternate between feelings of mild depression and intense irritability. Those who feel energized and creative when they are hypomanic, and who find their emotional low periods tolerable, may never seek treatment.
Barbara S. Sternberg Ph.D., The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,