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Signs That Your Mood Swings Are Veering Into Mental Illness

Most of us experience mood swings—you might have days when you feel happy and at ease and other days when you’re sad and tired. Changes in moods are part of being a human. But if your moods cycle higher and lower than average—between mania and depression—you might have a mental health condition known as cyclothymia.

Cyclothymia, or cyclothymic disorder, is similar to bipolar disorder, but it’s not as severe. “With cyclothymia, the symptoms do not impair everyday functioning or cause psychosis,” said Srinivas Dannaram, MD, a psychiatrist with Banner Thunderbird Medical Center in Glendale, AZ. “And people with cyclothymia don’t need to be hospitalized for treatment.”

But the shifts in mood that come with cyclothymia can trigger problems in relationships, behaviors, finances, social situations, coping skills and other circumstances. Oftentimes cyclothymia can lead to the abuse of alcohol or other mind-altering substances and excessive behaviors, like traveling or moving around a lot and being involved in religious cults.

What mania looks like in cyclothymia

In the manic phase of cyclothymia, you may notice that your mood feels elevated or expansive. You may also be irritable, and you may:

  • Have an inflated sense of self
  • Find you don’t want to sleep much
  • Talk loudly and quickly
  • Become distracted easily
  • Increase your activities
  • Engage in risky behavior, such as gambling or unprotected sex
  • Feel your thoughts racing

“With cyclothymia, the symptoms of mania only need to last four days in a row,” Dr. Dannaram said. In people with bipolar disorder, they last for at least a week.

What depression looks like in cyclothymia

In the depressed phase of cyclothymia, you may feel sad or hopeless and uninterested in doing things you typically enjoy. In this phase, cyclothymia can lead to symptoms like:

  • Feeling guilty or worthless
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Eating more or less than usual, leading to weight changes
  • Being tired and unenergetic
  • Feeling either agitated or slowed down
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Thinking about death or suicide

In bipolar disorder, these symptoms last two weeks or more. In cyclothymia, they last less than two weeks.

Who is at risk for cyclothymia?

A family history of bipolar disorder can put you at risk for cyclothymia. In fact, 30% of people with the condition have a family member with bipolar disorder.

How is cyclothymia treated?

If you notice the signs of cyclothymia or mood disorders in yourself or a loved one, contact a mental health professional for evaluation. If you’re diagnosed with cyclothymia, there are ways to help you balance your symptoms. Drugs such as mood stabilizers and antidepressants and certain types of therapy (including cognitive behavior therapy) can help you get your symptoms under control. It’s essential to get treatment for cyclothymia since the condition puts you at a higher risk for developing bipolar disorder.

The bottom line

Mood swings that are more extreme than everyday changes but less severe than bipolar disorder could be signs of cyclothymia. A mental health professional can help diagnose and treat the condition as needed. If you would like to connect with an expert to get help with your mood swings, Banner Health can help.

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