General Background Information on Mood Disorders
Mood Disorder Overview
Everyday life is a roller coaster of emotions. You may feel on top of the world one day because of a high-profile promotion or an awesome grade on a test. Another day, you may feel down in the dumps due to relationship problems, financial troubles, or because you got a flat tire on the way to work. These are normal fluctuations in mood that come and go. When your mood starts to have an impact on your daily activities and in your social, educational, and vocational relationships, you may be suffering from a mood disorder.
What is a Mood Disorder?
Mood disorders are characterized by a serious change in mood that cause disruption to life activities. Though many different subtypes are recognized, three major states of mood disorders exist: depressive, manic, and bipolar. Major depressive disorder is characterized by overall depressed mood. Elevated moods are characterized by mania or hypomania. The cycling between both depressed and manic moods is characteristic of bipolar mood disorders. In addition to type and subtype of mood, these disorders also vary in intensity and severity. For example, dysthymic disorder is a lesser form of major depression and cyclothymic disorder is recognized as a similar, but less severe form of bipolar disorder.
If you are suffering from depression, feelings of negativity can affect your whole being. While different types of depression exist, most have mood, cognitive, sleep, behavioral, whole body, and weight effects. You are likely experiencing feelings of apathy, general discontent, loss of interest in things that used to be pleasurable, mood swings, or overall sadness. In addition, you may have thoughts of suicide, problems sleeping, feel excessively irritable, socially isolated, and restless. Depression often affects your weight as well – you may lose interest in eating and lose a significant amount of weight or feel overly hungry and put on excess weight.
Manic moods are characterized by unusually high energy and mood. Feelings of euphoria are often present. These elevated moods typically last three days or more for most of the day. Classic mania symptoms include talking rapidly and/or excessively, needing significantly less sleep than normal, distractibility, poor judgment, impulsivity, and making reckless decisions.
Cause and Effect of Mood Disorders
What causes mood disorders? Researchers and medical professionals do not have a pinpointed answer for this question, but believe both biological and environmental factors are at play. If your family history includes individuals who have been diagnosed with mood disorders, your likelihood of experiencing them, while still low overall, is increased. Traumatic life events are also considered culprits of the onset of mood disorders as well. Mood disorders can negatively impact your work life and school life and intrude on your personal relationships. In some cases, medications and substance abuse can be the cause behind your disorder.
Prevalence of Mood Disorders
Mood disorders have been found to affect approximately 20% of the general population at any given point. More specifically, 17% of the U.S. population is thought to suffer from depression over the course of their lifetime, with bipolar disorder affecting only 1% of the general population. However, researchers agree that many instances of manic moods often go unnoticed or are deemed unproblematic, causing a significant decrease in their reported prevalence.
Mood disorders are diagnosed through both physical examinations and mental health evaluations. Your physician will perform a physical exam to rule out any underlying medical conditions that are causing an effect on your mood. If ruled out, a mental health provider may perform a series of assessments to determine your mood stability and mental health. Many individuals are reluctant to seek help for mood disorders due to the social stigma associated with them. Because of this, many go undiagnosed and approximately only 20% of those diagnosed receive treatment.
Mood disorders are treated primarily through medications and psychotherapy. Even with treatment though, it is not uncommon for mood disorders to persist throughout a lifetime or to come and go on occasion. Education about mood disorders help individuals suffering from these conditions recognize patterns of behavior and thought that are indicative of a mood disorder resurfacing – and prompt them to seek additional treatment.
Typically, antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications are prescribed to individuals coping with mood disorders to alleviate emotional distress. Even with medications though, most mental health providers recommend them in combination with psychotherapy.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is focused on changing thought patterns and behaviors. Cognitive behavioral therapy is often considered the benchmark therapy treatment for individuals living with mood disorders. It has been found to have significant positive treatment effects, and in some cases, psychotherapy alone is enough to treat a mood disorder.
Some mood disorders, such as bipolar depression, are usually treated with lifelong medication of mood stabilizers combined with psychotherapy. In addition, the severity of some mood disorders may cause hospitalization, especially if the affected individuals has tried to inflict harm on themselves or others or have thoughts or attempted suicide.