How Hypomania Differs from Full-Blown Mania in Bipolar Disorder

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Hypomania is not “a little mania”, as the name (literally) implies. It’s a completely different experience.

What is hypomania in plain terms?

Hypomania can be so subtle it just looks like “having a really good day”. Or it can be noticeable to others, who might think you are not your usual self.

Hypomania is a high-energy state: talking fast, thinking fast, lots of ideas, often very creative, more social than usual, more impulsive (“let’s go to the beach!”).

It’s not dangerous by itself (whereas mania is: lost jobs, lost relationships, and lost savings).

Many people don’t recognize their own hypomania — because to them, it’s not “abnormal”, it’s just a really good day. Their loved ones or co-workers might notice it.

Manic symptoms are part of a spectrum

The diagnoses at each end of the Mood Spectrum are based on the presence or absence of manic symptoms.

  • Zero manic symptoms at one end,
  • Full mania at the other.

Bipolar II disorder is depression with “hypomania”: less than full manic symptoms.

But it’s a mood spectrum, which means there are all sorts of variations between the two ends, not just one “hypomania.”

Let’s drill down into this wedge to see what symptoms look like at 4 different points.

Remember, in between these 4 points are many more variations.

Symptom A (subtle up) B (hypomanic) C (hypomanic) D (manic)
Distractibility A little scattered Hard to concentrate Can’t focus at all Hello? Hello?
Sleep Slight decrease Insomnia Just a few hours No sleep at all
"Grandiose" Confident Brilliant Narcissistic Dangerously overconfident
Ideas Creative Brilliant Hard to understand Can’t understand
Activity More than usual A little fast Really accelerated Bouncing off the walls
Speech Talkative Accelerated Mile a minute Can’t understand
Risk A little goofy Goofy Impulsive Dangerous decisions

Compare Column A and Column D. These are completely different experiences.

“Subtle up” is basically a normal day with a little more energy behind it. Manic is, well, manic.

No wonder people are afraid of the term “bipolar”: almost everyone thinks that means “manic”.

Bipolar also means hypomanic, with all its variations, including the most subtle. A better term is “bipolarity”, as in “How much bipolarity do you have? — where on the Mood Spectrum are you?”

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