What is Hypergraphia, and How Does It Relate to Bipolar Disorder?

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Credit to flickr.com user Fredrick Rubensson. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Hypergraphia–where “hyper” means “extremely active” and “graphia” means “to write”–is a condition where a person compulsively writes. The writings may be coherent, ranging from poetry to academic books, or scattered thoughts, with different sizes of texts.

Hypergraphia is difficult to define, as it’s not part of Merriam-Webster’s dictionary of words. The condition was only identified in the 1970s, by Drs. Waxman and Geschwind–the latter of whom has a mental disorder named after him, of which hypergraphia is a symptom. Hypergraphia is often associated with temporal lobe epilepsy, in patients who have endured multiple seizures.

While there are plenty of studies connecting epilepsy and hypergraphia, the link between the condition and bipolar disorder hasn’t been studied and should also be considered. The neurological literature is extensive, but the psychiatric literature is severely lacking. The condition appears to be a common manifestation of mania.

Only a couple of studies have looked at how hypergraphia relates to bipolar disorder. The linked study, by hypergraphia sufferer Alice Flaherty (author of The Midnight Disease, describing her experiences), only examines the link between creativity and bipolar, not hypergraphia specifically.

As far as anecdotal accounts go, author Dyane Harwood extensively describes her experience dealing with hypergraphia in her book, Birth of a New Brain, saying that she wrote so much, she suffered severe hand cramps–and even penned notes while on the toilet.

In my case, I experienced hypergraphia during a manic episode following my son’s birth. A flood of ideas struck my brain, and I was soon writing things down so I’d remember them. In the short span of a week, I felt compelled to handwrite over a hundred to-do lists. Some of the lists overflowed with a hundred items or more, while other lists held only two.

Hypergraphia as a manifestation of mania appears rather common, just unstudied. A PubMed search for “mania, hypergraphia,” shows five hits, only one of which actually relates to the topic. Whereas searching the same site for temporal lobe epilepsy and hypergraphia ends up with 28 hits. Meanwhile, a Google search for “mania, hypergraphia” shows 16,600 hits, and that’s just the websites that use the scientific term.

This means that there are stories out there linking bipolar disorder and hypergraphia. They just haven’t shown up on medical sites yet.

I hope that future studies will take into account the link between bipolar disorder and hypergraphia, a manifestation of creative output and idea generation. If you have suffered from hypergraphia during mania, you are not alone.

Does your mania manifest as hypergraphia?

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Genes Linked to Creativity Could Increase Risk of Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia

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Credit to flickr.com user John Morgan. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Genes linked to creativity could increase the risk of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, according to new research done by scientists at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London.

 

Creativity and mental illnesses have long been suspected to go hand in hand, with several famous artists suffering from psychiatric illnesses–such as Vincent Van Gogh. Prior studies have shown that bipolar disorder in particular is often found in families with many members who are part of creative professions. But it wasn’t until the IoPPN study that scientists were able to definitively say genetics played a part, as opposed to environmental factors.

Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder both affect thought patterns and emotions, which includes creativity. Creativity is difficult to define in a scientific context, but the IoPPN study looked at 86,292 individuals from Iceland, pinpointing the trait in the artists, dancers, and song writers, and linking their genes to the risk mental illnesses.

The findings suggest that creative individuals are predisposed to thinking differently, which may contribute to psychiatric disorders. By understanding the thought processes behind healthy behaviors, such as creativity, and how that trait links to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, scientists hope that they can understand how the brain goes wrong.

This should lead to better treatments for mentally ill people, always good news!

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