Differences between cyclothymia and major depression

The psychological disorders are very varied, but many of them coincide in terms of symptoms. It is sometimes difficult to clearly and sharply differentiate between a disorder such as major depression from others such as recurrent brief depression or bipolar disorder .

That is why there are diagnostic manuals, such as the DSM or the ICD, that allow a differential diagnosis to be carried out and ensure that the patient receives the proper diagnosis and treatment.

Sometimes major depression and cyclothymia, which has hypomania-depression cycles, can cause some confusion . For this reason we will explain them in this article, in addition to mentioning the 4 main differences between both disorders.

  • Recommended article: “Differences between unipolar depression and bipolar depression”

Brief definition of both disorders

First of all, we are going to know the definition and the basic characteristics of both disorders.

Major depression

Major depression is a psychological disorder characterized by manifesting deep pathological sadness for at least two weeks . Depressed people often have very low self-esteem, little interest in doing activities they liked before, and lack of energy and pain for no apparent reason. Due to all this, the disorder can have a very serious impact on the life of the depressed person, affecting their social relationships, work, studies and general health.


Cyclothymia, also called cyclothymic disorder, is a psychological disorder in which there are periods with depressive symptoms and periods with hypomaniacs . The occurrence of these episodes has to be about two years

Differences between both disorders

We will now find out what are the differences between cyclothymia and major depression.

1. Episodes vs. steady state

The main difference between both disorders is that in cyclothymia there are hypomanic and depressive episodes, while in major depression only depressive symptoms occur .

In depression, the episodes are unipolar, that is, there are no sudden changes in mood as occurs in bipolar disorder or cyclothymia, in which one goes from a low state of mind to a high one, with manic symptoms.

In major depression, these symptoms last for at least two weeks, and can stretch for months and years.

On the other hand, in cyclothymia, as with bipolar disorder, there are episodes that go from one extreme to the other of the mood.

Although the symptoms are not as severe as in bipolar disorder, some episodes present with depressive symptoms while others do so with hypomaniacs.

When depressive episodes occur without being accompanied by episodes of mania, depression is often referred to as unipolar.

In cyclothymia there are depressive episodes, in which symptoms of depression are manifested, but hypomanic episodes also occur. Thus, in cyclothymia there are variations in the state of mind that go slightly beyond euthymy.

2. Severity of symptoms

The symptoms of major depression are various, some of them being insomnia and hypersomnia , weight gain and loss without dieting, fatigue and loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness, concentration problems, along with deep sadness, suicidal ideation and attempts autolytic.

All these symptoms are serious and have a very negative impact on the life of the depressed person.

Although cyclothymia also affects the person’s life, it does not do it in as severe a way as major depression does.

It is true that in cyclothymia there are depressive symptoms, however, they do not acquire the severity of those of major depression. Furthermore, depressive episodes in cyclothymia do not usually last as long as in depression, rarely exceeding two weeks.

Due to all this, cyclothymia is not as harmful as major depression, although it should be noted that having depressive episodes frequently is not adaptive, since it can make it difficult to maintain a partner or continue studies and work.

The same is true of hypomanic episodes of cyclothymia when compared to the high maniacs of bipolar disorder. While in bipolar disorder there is euphoria and a feeling of invincibility, in cyclothymia these symptoms are less severe .

3. Search for help

Although all people would need to go to the psychologist, either to check that we are well or to see if something happens to us and start treatment as soon as possible, the truth is that not all people with psychological disorders decide to seek help .

Relating it to the previous point, due to the difference in the severity of the symptoms of both disorders, there are also differences on the part of those affected by these disorders when seeking help.

In major depression, since there is a very noticeable affectation in life, professional help is usually sought more often and earlier than in the case of cyclothymia.

It is true that there may be reluctance to go to a psychologist or a psychiatrist, but since the person with major depression is very aware that they suffer and their environment there is also often more pressure from the family to seek help. much needed.

However, the same does not happen with people affected by cyclothymia. As the changes in the state of mind can be confused with normal and healthy changes of a somewhat unstable person or related to his personality, the degree of concern is less and considering the fact that he is suffering from a psychological problem is not as frequent. .

However, the search for help never hurts , since it is estimated that between 15% and 50% of the population of people with cyclothymia will evolve to a bipolar disorder with episodes of major severity.

4. Differential diagnosis

For cyclothymia to be diagnosed, it is necessary that the patient has manifested depressive and hypomanic episodes for a period of more than two years.

In the case of major depression, the diagnosis can be given if the person reports suffering from depressive symptoms for more than two weeks.

Major depression is classified in DSM-5 as a mood disorder and such a disorder is diagnosed when at least one depressive episode has occurred, without the symptoms of mania or hypomania having occurred.

Usually, if there has been an episode with manic symptoms, major depression is ruled out and the possibility of having a cyclothymic disorder or a bipolar type is considered.

Cyclothymia is classified as a subtype of bipolar disorder. The intervals in which there are no symptoms, either depressive or hypomanic, do not exceed two months.

It should be said that during the diagnosis of cyclothymia it is necessary to find out if the person has used drugs, since some of them can affect the state of mind in such a way that episodes of euphoria occur followed by emotional lows that can be misinterpreted as a cyclothymic disorder


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