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Cyclothymia: Mild Form of Biopolar Disorder Runs on Two-Month Cycle of Instability

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September 16, 2014
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Boston Evening Therapy Content

bipolar disorderThe very nature of cyclothymia, or Bipolar Disorder Type 3, a mild form of bipolar disorder, means that many people don’t seek treatment or even realize they have a disorder that can be diagnosed and treated.

“Cyclothymia has an insidious onset that starts in late adolescence or early adulthood and has a chronic nature,” said Dr. Stephen B. Stokl, chief of psychiatry at Southlake Regional Health Centre in Ontario, Canada, in an article on

A diagnosis of cyclothymia means relatively mild episodes of depression and mania have continued for two years and a person’s stable periods don’t last more than two months.

“Most people never get treatment,” according to John Preston, a professor at Alliant International University in San Diego and author of Taking Charge of Bipolar Disorder. The main reasons people often don’t seek treatment for cyclothymic disorder are:

  • Episodes of depression are not typically incapacitating
  • Episodes of mania have not reached the point of causing a crisis
  • People with cyclothymic disorder do feel OK for periods of time

It’s usually loved ones who notice a problem, finding it hard to live with someone who has unstable moods,” Preston said. “It’s also key for loved ones to understand that a person with cyclothymia can’t undo their disorder or control their mood shifts. Cyclothymia is driven by biological changes in the nervous system.”

If untreated, cyclothymia can get worse.

“At least half of the people with cyclothymia, over a period of time, will start developing increasingly severe mood episodes” and will be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Preston said.

Many experts advise against treating cyclothymia with medication because of side effects of mood stabilizers and the possibility of antidepressants triggering more intense episodes of mania, said Preston.

Psychotherapy has been found to be effective in treating cyclothymic disorder. It’s also helpful to avoid caffeine after noon time and stay away from drugs and alcohol, said Preston. Those lifestyle choices promote healthy sleep patterns, especially the deep restorative stage of sleep, which helps to stabilize moods.


Forbes, Elizabeth, “Bringing Bipolar into Focus,” bp Magazine, Summer 2013

Tartakovsky, Margarita, “Understanding and Coping with Cyclothymia,” PsychCentral

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