Cyclothymia, also known as cyclothymic disorder, is a mental health condition which often goes undiagnosed for a long period. Similar to a milder form of bipolar disorder (also called ‘manic depression‘), cyclothymia usually manifests itself fairly early in life with the patient experiencing periodic mild depression and low mood followed by swings to an energetic, emotional high mood (known as ‘hypomania’.)
Because the depressive episodes usually tend to be quite mild, it can be years before cyclothymia sufferers seek treatment. Diagnosis is generally based on the patient’s reported mood swings. For a positive diagnosis of cyclothymia, the mood swings must have a history of at least two years. (In children and adolescents, this can be one year.) The symptoms will also be more or less constant, with no more than a two-month period without any symptoms being experienced.
Cyclothymia affects men and women alike. There does seem to be a genetic link, as the condition, along with bipolar disorder and chronic depression, usually runs in families.
Cyclothymia is generally treated either with mood-stabilizing drugs such as lithium; anti-seizure drugs such as valproic acid, carbamazepine, oxcarbazepine, or lamotrigine; anti-depressants prescription medications; and with talk therapy, especially cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT encourages patients to manage their problems and moods in a more positive way. Patients may also wish to join a support group for people with cyclothymia, to share coping strategies and experience.
If left untreated, cyclothymia can also develop into more serious bipolar disorder, where the mood swings become much more severe and significantly impact on the ability to live a normal life. However, the outcome is by no means certain. Less than half of cyclothymia sufferers will go on to develop bipolar disorder. Many sufferers find that their condition gradually diminishes throughout their lives until they are symptom free for years at a time. Other sufferers, unfortunately, may discover that their condition is a lifelong illness which will need careful managing and regular reviews by a medical professional to ensure that the treatment is appropriate.