• Overview


Cyclothymia, or cyclothymic disorder, is a mild form of bipolar disorder (manic depression).

A person with cyclothymia will have a history of mood swings that range from mild depression to emotional highs (see How do I know I have cyclothymia?, below).

Most people's symptoms are mild enough that they do not seek mental health treatment, so cyclothymia often goes undiagnosed and untreated.

However, the mood swings can disrupt your personal and work relationships, so if you think you have cyclothymia, it's worth seeing your GP for treatment. 

Cyclothymia can progress into bipolar disorder, and it is often not until this late stage that people seek treatment.

How do I know I have cyclothymia?

If you have cyclothymia, you'll have periods of low mood followed by periods of euphoria and excitement, when you don't need much sleep (these 'up' periods are called 'hypomania').

The periods of low mood do not last long enough and are not severe enough to merit a diagnosis of clinical depression, but they will probably interfere with your ability to function on a day-to-day basis.

Mood swings will be fairly frequent, as well as persistent – you'll have no more than two symptom-free months in a row.

Your fluctuating moods need to have lasted at least two years (one year in childen and adolescents) for cyclothymia to be diagnosed.

What are the causes?

The causes of cyclothymia are unknown, but there is probably a genetic link - cyclothymia, clinical depression and bipolar disorder all tend to run in families.

Cyclothymia usually begins early in life and is equally common in both men and women.

How is it treated?

No medicines have been specifically approved for use in treating cyclothymia, but mood-stabilising medication and/or antidepressants have been shown to help, along with psychotherapy.

Mood stabilisers include:

However, not all people with cyclothymia respond to medication.

Psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), can be very effective. CBT involves talking to a trained therapist to find ways to help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave. It cannot remove your problems, but can help you manage them in a more positive way. The above link will take you to more information on this talking therapy. 

Find your nearest depression support service.

It may also help to join a support group, so you can talk to others who share your experiences and problems - see the Useful links, right, for a list of organisations or ask your GP if there is a local group you can join.


Less than half of people with cyclothymia will eventually develop bipolar disorder, where their elevated or depressed moods become more severe.

Other people will find that their cyclothymia continues and they need to manage this as a lifelong condition, or they find that it disappears with time.

Page last reviewed: 14/11/2012

Next review due: 14/11/2014


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The 4 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

abusymind said on 23 May 2014

I often feel that this condition is sometimes a lazy diagnosis for an under-investigated case of rapid cycling bipolar II. I have been diagnosed with this condition along with recurrent depressive disorder and would not describe it as mild. With severe psychomotor retardation in the lows and very suicidal drops as the years have passed, it has taken away my quality of life for the years it has been missed by the NHS. Leading to many episodes of depression, I would say awareness needs to be raised, even with psychiatrists, to stop people from suffering and allow treatment options, The impact on life of this condition, left undiagnosed, and untreated is very detrimental. I have opted for a mood stabilising drug which helps quite a lot in dampening down highs and lows and decreasing irritability...still a way to go with the lows, Psychology is next....again. I am already feeling that the psychologist doesn't know much about this condition but worth a go. Drug therapy is not everyone's choice but it is worth trying a suitable mood stabiliser. I found antidepressants made the highs and lows more extreme - we all deserve a quality of life. Apparently I have recently been told GPs should treat this condition. My GP would never have known. Discuss your treatment options with your GP or Psychiatrist - although a long wait for a psych these days.

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SoundFlyer said on 12 April 2014

I went through the diagnostic process for depressive disorders in my late 50s, and was assessed as cyclothalmic. It had only occurred to me a couple of years earlier that I was on the Bi-Polar spectrum - after realising a strong family history of mental illnesses and examining several destructive events in my own life. Once I realised the question became 'how did I not know', so obvious were the patterns of feelings and behaviour. Having learned so much more now, that resistance is also explained.

I chose not to have any further treatment because I had retired early and could regulate my life to avoid the worst elements of bi-polar and to enjoy the benefits - yes, there are, in my opinion, benefits.

But, overall, I wish I had sought diagnosis and treatment much earlier in life. In hindsight, I would choose medication and talk therapy. It says above that the disorder sometimes goes away, I have deep doubts about that. Mine hasn't gone away, I have absorbed it into my life by managing it. But I would much rather not have it because it created havoc in my relationships and caused a lot of pain to a lot of people, and it still restricts the full enjoyment of my retired life.

My last thought is that these descriptions inevitable seem more black and white than the experience. I have had periods of a few months with no symptoms, I have had frighteningly rapid and deep cycles of mania and depression. If highs and lows cause recurring problems it's worth getting help.

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dreamcatcher30 said on 03 February 2013

user 492632

u obviously have no friends or fmaily with this disorder cos trust me its very real very horrible very nasty and ruins lives of the suffers and the families

my dad is now 59 and took him over 30 years to be taken seriously and a proper diagnosis made

my childhood was miserable and so is my adult hood to be honest cos this never goes away my dad cant be normal no family event is ever normal its a living hell this is 100% differant to normal high and low moods trust me and im even showing signs of it myself! so please dont comment like that when u have no real idea

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slowmonkey333 said on 30 January 2013

With reference to the above comment

It's very obvious from the above comment the writer knows absolutely nothing about this very distressing disorder!!.. and that person should remove it asap as a matter of respect for those unfortunate people who have to live with it's extremely annoying, disruptive and disabling affects on life, and the awful effects it has on those around them

The link at the top right of the page "Signpost UK: Cyclothymia" provides a more detailed and accurate overview of Cyclothymia

Thanks for reading

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