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July 6, 2005

Hypomania May Have Its Benefits

Psychiatrist John Gartner has an interesting outlook on hypomania, one that is much more positive than the average viewpoint. Gartner has a lot to say in his book "The Hypomanic Edge: The Link Between (a little) Craziness and (a lot of) Success in America." He believes that many of the most influential people in the past have been people who were actually hypomanic.

Hypomania is the milder form of mania, different in that it usually does not interfere with one's functioning and does not result in hallucinations or delusions. Those with Bipolar II disorder alternate between depression and hypomania.

Those included in his diagnosis of hypomania are Christopher Columbus, William Penn, Andrew Carnegie, Alexander Hamilton, David Selznick, and Craig Venter. But this is only a portion of those who Gartner has diagnosed as hypomanic.

Some argue against Gartner's claims that hypomania gives way to success. "'Is the suffering of the illness necessary in order to motivate or inspire great art?' asked Dr. Michael Thase, a professor of psychiatry at UPMC's Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic. 'It is fair to say that if people have illnesses that are placing their lives in danger, they should be treated'" (Semuels, 2005).

Gartner also claims that America, due to its high influx of immigrants has a greater population of hypomanics. The idea is that immigrants made a great risk when choosing to move to America, and therefore many of them may have hypomanic tendencies. It is a good hypothesis, but it also lacks the scientific data needed to make it factual.

As Semuels (2005) puts it "It's that mentality -- that hypomanics are an elite bunch who hold the future of America in the palms of their always-moving hands -- that has caused Gartner the most trouble, by giving an excuse to people with strange and often irritating habits to hold onto them as part of their genius."

As astounding as the potential link between hypomania and success is, it should be noted that hypomania can often be destructive rather than creative. Having one's hypomania treated should come first and foremost. There has been no scientific evidence that shows that taking medication for hypomania reduces one's creativity; creativity is something within oneself, a part of your personality. Hypomania may sometimes just highlight how creative a person is, but it does not manifest creativity out of nothingness. I would argue that creativity comes from the individual, not the illness, although I admit that this is a debatable fact.

Despite the cracks in Gartner's argument he raises many interesting points. Maybe the world does owe a lot of its success to hypomania. Unfortunately we won't truly know until hypomania and its effects on "success" are studied.

The source of this article was the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and was written there by Alana Semuels. You can read the full length story at: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/05187/533173.stm

The homepage for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette can be located at: http://www.post-gazette.com/


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