Depression-Mania Spectrum

Each of us has unique temperament traits which are largely constrained by genetics and early environment.  Yet we often deceive ourselves if we take false credit for these traits as if they are self-nurtured.  Today I will discuss the temperament spectrum of Depression-Mania.  I make no airs of knowing what I am talking about, but this is how I think about these — how I visualize the issue.

To the right I have illustrate my personal settings on the Depression-Mania spectrum.  Of course though the categories are my artifice and the borders are imaginary, perhaps they are useful in some ways.

I am hypo-manic.  It is a fun place to be.  My wife is hypo-depressed — I think she would agree that my setting is more desirable.

But in some people, the elation of mania can be crippling.  The DSM IV (the classification Bible of psychiatric conditions) gives the following check-list definition of a “manic episode”:

  • a period of seven or more days (or any period if admission to hospital is required) of unusually and continuously effusive and open elated or irritable mood
  • a disturbed mood is present at least three (or four if only irritability is present) of the following must have been consistently prominent:
    • grand or extravagant style, or expanded self-esteem;
    • reduced need of sleep (e.g. three hours may be sufficient);
    • talks more often and feels the urge to talk longer;
    • ideas flit through the mind in quick succession, or thoughts race and preoccupy the person;
    • over indulgence in enjoyable behaviors with high risk of a negative outcome (e.g., extravagant shopping, sexual adventures or improbable commercial schemes).

Well, it is easy to see that mania has real drawbacks.  Heck even us “hypo-manic” folks have challenges because of many of these issues — the “hypo-depressed” people probably shouldn’t envy us as much as they do.  Indeed, I’d like to thank my friends over the years who have kindly put up with the limitations of my hypo-manic personality. 🙂

In my diagram, the green “normal” section should be much smaller.  I don’t really see much normalcy in the real world — it is purely an abstract fictional creature.   So I apologize for putting it in the diagram.   That is why I didn’t give it a capital “N”, because it does not deserve any respect.  🙂

So why this post?  Well, mainly to share how I think about or visualize our psychological traits.  I hope to refer back to this post in future posts when I discuss another visual model I have  in my view of human character.  So we all have models of reality, this is one of my many models.

Question to readers:  Where is your setting on the Depression-Mania spectrum and how has it served you?



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

7 responses to “Depression-Mania Spectrum

  1. That’s really funny — I “diagnosed” you as hypomanic some time ago. I have no qualification whatsoever to do so, so it’s worthless as information, but it is at least amusing to have thought the same thing.

    I’ve often thought that I would love to be stably hypomanic. I like getting stuff done, and having the energy and focus to accomplish more would be great. And it’s fun…

    My tendency is much more toward depression. Outright depression has zero value, in my experience. “Hypo-depression” (is there such a term?) is unpleasant and overall of negative value, but it can have some positive aspects. It seems to encourage “big picture” thinking, introspection, depth of emotions, and realism about one’s abilities and prospects. It slows you down enough that you can see clearly large-scale patterns that you miss when you are in a whirl of activity.

  2. Hello David
    I am pretty easy to figure out, eh? 🙂
    I totally agree with your analysis and thank you for sharing — it offered me thoughts about your type that I had not envisioned!

  3. I’m not bi-polar, I’m bi-winning. (sorry, couldn’t resist)

    I used to consider hypomania to be a stable personality trait of mine, and it got me into a lot of trouble. Now I’ve become convinced that it’s only the predisposition to hypomania that’s stable, and my position on the mania-depression spectrum is quite changeable over time, based on a feedback loop between my actions and brain state.

    As just one example of the sort of feedback loop I’m thinking of, it’s been shown that people with smaller hippocampuses have more depression. But depression can lead to shrinkage of the hippocampus. So it can be a vicious cycle. However, there are things you can do to increase hippocampus size, which can reverse the cycle, or prevent it from starting in the first place.

    I think most people have a predisposition to either spiral towards hypomania or spiral towards hypodepression, under the right circumstances. The trick is in learning to honestly gauge where you’re at (which usually means trusting other people to tell you :-)), and learning how to influence the direction to keep things inside the boundaries that you find acceptable.

  4. @ JS Allen
    Very well said — I couldn’t agree more.

  5. DaCheese

    Definitely on the down side of that scale. Hard to stay motivated, etc. Of course other personality factors can move you along that scale, eg. anxiety issues.

    BTW, if I remember correctly “hypo-manic” is a serious clinical diagnosis, more like what we colloquially think of when we say “manic”; technically what you’re talking about is (I hope) hypo-hypo-manic 🙂

  6. @ DaCheese,
    Yeah, I think I am using “hypo-manic” in the colloquial sense — though my wife may disagree! 🙂
    Thanx for sharing. It is so important to understand the variety of constitutions and how we are constrained to ours more than we imagine.

  7. my wife and my father-in-law would be some of the only “normal” people i’ve ever met. i agree with your assessment that the green is a rare-creature and most of us are borderline personalities in this sense. i’d go hyper-manic if i had to self-diagnose.

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