Hypomania and Hypomanic Episodes Defined

Rashmi Nemade, Ph.D. & Mark Dombeck, Ph.D., edited by Kathryn Patricelli, MA

Alone with the great sky of waterimage by A. M. (lic)Not everyone who becomes manic experiences a full-blown manic episode. Hypomanic individuals show an energized and sometimes elated mood, with rapid thinking and talking.

At least three of the following must be present (for at least four days) before the diagnosis of hypomanic episode is appropriate:

  • an inflated sense of self (the person believes they are much better, smarter or more powerful than anyone else around them). With hypomania, the sense of self is never delusional or completely out of touch with reality
  • decreased need for sleep (for example, feeling fully rested after 3 hours of sleep)more talkative than usual or pressure to keep talking
  • the person feels a sensation of racing thoughts (often called a "flight of ideas")distractibility (for example, the person's attention is too easily drawn to unimportant or irrelevant stimuli). This can be reported by the person or observed by others around theman increase in goal-directed activity (purposeful behavior that occurs either socially, at work or school, or seuxally), or physical agitation
  • excessive involvement in activities that have a high potential for painful consequences (for example, going on a buying spree, unprotected sex, gambling, poor business investments, etc.)

You'll notice that these are essentially the same criteria that are applied to manic episodes. What separates a hypomanic episode from a manic episode is mostly the degree of intensity (or energy) present in the behaviors that the manic person shows. It's the degree of intensity, not the variety of ways it's displayed. When the observed energy level is above average but still within normal limits, you have a hypomanic state. When the energy level goes off the normal scale entirely, you have a manic episode.

People experiencing a hypomanic state are not necessarily always sunny and happy. They may experience irritable mood states too, as is also the case with full manic episodes. However, the level of irritability that may be shown during a hypomanic episode is nowhere near as severe as what might be shown during a fully manic episode.

Since hypomania is less severe than mania, people experiencing a hypomanic episode may still have sound judgment and not engage in self-destructive behavior. In fact, their sharpened thoughts and ability to function with little sleep contribute to increased productivity compared to those without mania. Hypomania can create a distinct advantage in the workplace because it helps people to be very productive and get more things done than others can do. This positive aspect of hypomania is often seen as a benefit by people who have bipolar disorder.

Hypomanic individuals are likely to be creative risk-takers, who can make creative ideas happen. Many historical and contemporary figures, including composer Ludwig van Beethoven, pioneering physicist Issac Newton, authors Charles Dickens and Edgar Allen Poe, artist Vincent van Gogh, statesmen Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and Theodore Roosevelt, and media mogul Ted Turner have been documented to have experienced severe and debilitating recurrent mood swings. When you are hypomanic on a regular basis, you have a mild form of what can be a disabling illness. There is no guarantee that your hypomania will stay stable as hypomania. When left untreated, the underlying causes that produce hypomania can, and do sometimes, worsen until full manic episodes occur.



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